Credit: Photo by Brand India, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.I live in the Philippines, which is a tropical country. Add the fact that we have one of the highest electricity rates in the world and went through a decade full of power outages and it's not surprising that we're pretty much accustomed to hot (not warm, mind you) weather.
However, these past few years, the temperature has been rising steadily to the point that cases of heat strokes have become very common even in residential areas. Not that it's technically impossible, but it used to be that cases of heat strokes were more common with people who are working physically-taxing jobs under the summer heat, not with people who forget to open an electric fan while taking a nap in the afternoon.
Now, whether the intense heat is the result of global warming or not (maybe we're in that point where the sun reaches its peak, etc.) is subject for another article. This time, we're more interested in things that you can do to avoid getting a heat stroke, or what you can do to help someone who failed to do so.
First Things First, What Exactly is a Heat Stroke?
As the name implies, it is a stroke that happens due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures, especially when combined with dehydration, resulting in the body's biological temperature control system shutting down. A heat stroke can kill a person or permanently damage his internal organs, including the brain. Its symptoms include nausea, loss of mental acuity, seizures, loss of consciousness, and even coma.
Avoiding a Heat Stroke
Of course, the simplest way to avoid it is to stay away from places that are known to be extremely hot and have very little to no ventilation. For example, don't stay inside a car parked in an open area when the sun is at its peak (like in open parking lots) and both the shades and AC are off. The temperature inside the parked car can soar to the triple digits within minutes. This warning goes double for kids.
Next, you need to drink plenty of fluids. Make sure you're drinking water. Drink it cold, if possible. Caffeinated drinks or drinks with lots of sugar are to be avoided at all costs, which means no coffee, even iced ones. Soda is totally out of the question too (you don't even need the threat of heat stroke to avoid these, anyway. They're generally bad for your health in large amounts). Gatorade actually works well in this case, as the body absorbs it pretty fast, but it's subject to preference (personally, I hate the taste.)
Next is your clothes. Dress appropriately for the weather. If it's scorching hot, there's really no reason to wear thick clothing, outside of stupidity or an intense need to shuffle off the mortal coil ("YOLO" doesn't cut it. Having only one life means you need to treasure it, not use it as an excuse to do dangerous things). Don't worry about your fashion sense. You can look good while wearing well-ventilated clothing.
If possible, you should just stay indoors where there are room fans or air-conditioners when the weather is too hot to handle. In the absence of air conditioners, open the windows and use fans to circulate the air.
If you're an athlete or working during a really hot day, you can minimize the risk of heat strokes by allowing your body to acclimatize to the hot, humid condition before going full bore on your task - this can be done by starting slow and gradually increasing your physical activity over a 10 to 14 day period. Drink lots of water along the way, as it will train your body to increase blood volume and perspire more efficiently. Take every opportunity to do your work under a shade.
Treating a Heat Stroke
So, let's say the unexpected happened and someone actually shows signs of a heat stroke, what do you do? Make no mistake about it: call emergency services or transport the person to a hospital. Heat strokes are a very serious medical emergency and any delay in seeking medical help can be fatal.
While on the way to the hospital, or while waiting for paramedics, you should initiate first aid on the person. First is to move the person to an air-conditioned or at least a shady, less hot area while removing any unnecessary clothing. Keep in mind that the paramedics need to get to the patient immediately when they arrive, so try not to move so far away that they won't find you immediately.
It is imperative that you get the person's core body temperature down to prevent further harm, so try to fan air over the patient while wetting his skin with water from a hose or through a sponge. You can also apply ice packs or cubes to key areas of the body, such as the armpits, the neck, the back, the groin. These parts of the body are very effective in controlling the core temperature because they have a large amount of blood vessels that are close to the skin.
Lastly, if the emergency response is taking longer than expected, don't hesitate to call the hospital again and ask for additional instructions.