Heatstroke Warning 9 Things You Need to Know | Homage

Heatstroke Warning: 9 Things You Need to Know

Heatstroke occurs when your body overheats and can't cool down. This can cause serious damage to your organs and even lead to death. Let’s find out more!

by Calvyn Ee

What is Heat Stroke?

When your body temperature exceeds 40 degrees Celsius, you are at great risk of heat stroke. Heat stroke is a dangerous condition where excess heat causes significant harm to your overall bodily and organ functions. The dangers of heat stroke cannot be understated; the news of a child who tragically died due to heat stroke is one such cautionary tale.

Your body normally cools itself down through sweating. Sweating occurs when water from your body, along with salt, is excreted from your skin via sweat glands. Once it reaches the surface of the skin, it evaporates; this is what keeps your body cool. As a result, you need frequent hydration to keep your body’s water content at normal levels and ensure you’re sweating.

There are two main categories of heat stroke: exertional and non-exertional heat stroke. Exertional heat stroke affects physically fit persons while undergoing physical activities; non-exertional heat stroke develops from low-level physical activities in elderly persons, sedentary individuals, and/or those with pre-existing medical conditions.

With the Malaysian weather, it’s crucial that you pay close attention to the well-being of your loved ones’ health both inside and outside the house.

Causes and Symptoms of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke happens when your body is unable to cool itself down and your core body temperature rises above 40 degrees Celsius. The main causes of heat stroke are usually related to a lack of hydration, being out on a hot day for long hours, and even a lack of ventilation.

In the case of non-exertional heat stroke, it typically occurs after prolonged exposure to hot, humid weather, whether directly (going outdoors) or indirectly (at home with minimal ventilation). High humidity conditions can also make it harder for your body to quickly release heat, even if you’re only indoors.

As for exertional heat stroke, any kind of intensive physical activity can lead to heat stroke if the body can’t sufficiently keep itself cool over time. This can be exacerbated if you’re doing any physical activity in a hot, dry environment.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • High body temperature above 40 degrees Celsius
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Elevated heart rate as it works hard to cool down your body
  • Headache/migraine
  • Cognitive impairment (irritability, delirium, etc.)
  • Loss of consciousness

If you or your loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, immediately see a doctor to have it treated.

What You Should Know About Heat Stroke

There are many important things you’ll need to know about heat stroke and how you can prevent it.

Heat Stroke Is a Medical Emergency

If our prior warning wasn’t clear enough, the symptoms of heat stroke are not something you should ignore. If your body cannot reliably remove excess heat through sweating or other means, it can cause lasting harm to your internal organs. 

Without immediate medical attention, it may be nearly impossible to effectively treat someone with heat stroke and bring their body temperature to normal levels. There are things you can do to alleviate the symptoms before medical attention can be given, including:

  • Applying ice packs to the neck, groin and armpits
  • Move them to a shady spot
  • Immersing the person in cool water
  • Make sure the person is wearing light, loose-fitting clothing

Take extra care to look after your infant children and your elderly loved ones, as they are significantly at risk of getting heat stroke.

Heat Exhaustion Can Lead to Heat Stroke

Heat exhaustion may be something you’ve heard of before, but you’ll need to understand that it’s not the same thing as heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is a milder type of heat-related illness when your body has lost significant water and salt content, usually from sweating. It’s not as life-threatening as heat stroke, but can still lead to heat stroke if left untreated.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion can be considered “milder” than heat stroke. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Thirst

You or your loved one should take shelter and drink plenty of water to prevent heat exhaustion from becoming more severe.

Don’t Wait in a Parked Car

It might seem like common sense, but in times when we’re in a hurry, we might find ourselves or even a loved one waiting in a car while you or another loved one are busy with something. You might say that you’ll keep the car’s air conditioning on, but besides the extra fuel costs, it’s still not ideal to be waiting inside a car that’s out in the hot, summery weather.

The El Nino weather phenomenon is what’s causing this unexpected heat wave, and the Malaysian Meteorological Department (METMalaysia) has already forecasted this heat wave to persist till August! Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Muruga Raj Rajathurai warned that cities, like Kuala Lumpur, are “particularly impacted due to the urban heat island effect caused by dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces.”

Even with the air conditioning at full blast, being in a car doesn’t completely protect you from the effects of high heat. Babies and elderly persons, in particular, are still at great risk of heat-related illnesses, even with the breeze from a car’s climate control system.

Some Conditions Increase Your Risk

Some medications or conditions can make it harder for your body to effectively lower its temperature when it gets too high. For example, diuretics – which are prescribed to help remove excess water and salt – must be taken as prescribed to prevent extreme loss of these elements, which can put you or your loved one at higher risk of a heat stroke. Medications that could interfere with sweating can also be dangerous since they prevent the body from releasing excess heat.

If you or your loved one has a chronic medical condition, it could potentially make it difficult to respond to gradual or drastic changes in temperature or make it easier to develop heat stroke symptoms – be it due to a weakened physical state or some other reason. Take note if you or your loved one have any of the following:

  • Heart disease: Heat can increase the risk of heart attacks or other heart-related complications.
  • Diabetes: It may be harder to regulate normal body temperature and blood glucose levels, and insulin medication may be damaged under high heat.
  • Asthma: Poorly stored inhalers exposed to heat may be impaired, dispensing less than what is needed.
  • Mental health complications: If you or your loved one have any mental health conditions, it could severely impact you or your loved one’s disposition: anger, sadness, and so on.
  • Electrolyte content in blood: A lack of electrolytes due to extreme heat can make you or your loved one feel nauseous or weak.

Dehydration Drains You Greatly

Severe dehydration can cause many problems:

  • Even a loss of 2 percent of your body’s water content can significantly impact your physical health. You can easily feel fatigued even after a short amount of light physical activity.
  • The same amount of water loss can make you feel disoriented, forgetful, and even impair your mood.
  • Less urination caused by dehydration can lead to further health complications, particularly affecting the kidneys and/or bladder, or even other parts of the body.
  • As mentioned, less sweating due to dehydration makes it harder for the body to cool its core temperature, which can then lead to heat stroke.
  • 1–3 percent loss of water can lead to a 0.5–2 kg of body weight. Though it might seem like a small amount, it’s still worth noting, especially if you or your loved one are suddenly experiencing minor weight loss.

Even if you’re staying away from the heat and are keeping cool, make sure you always have a glass (or, even better, a full tumbler) of water close by. If you’re planning to exercise outdoors, take a sports drink packed with electrolytes with you. It’s a good way to quench your thirst while providing your body with much-needed electrolytes to keep it going.

Not All Drinks are Made Equal

Staying hydrated is key, but not all drinks are ideal to keep the body cool. Water is still the best way to rehydrate; after all, your body is made up of 60 percent water, and as you lose it from sweating, you’ll need to “top up” the water that you’ve lost. It’s recommended to drink at least eight glasses of water a day to keep your water content at normal levels.

Coffee and tea may be enjoyable beverages, but these shouldn’t be substitutes for water. This isn’t to say that they’ll dehydrate you. Both these drinks have caffeine, which happens to have mild diuretic properties: meaning that you might be using the washroom a little more often than usual. Caffeine should also be consumed in moderate amounts, usually 400 milligrams a day for adults.

Alcohol is something you should only have in small quantities. Alcohol can be dehydrating, especially as the alcohol content can make some of your organs work harder. Alcohol that’s processed by the liver is turned into acetaldehyde, which – in large quantities – can be toxic to your body. Your liver will need to work hard to convert it into acetate, which is important for metabolic functions.

Moreover, alcohol reduces the amount of vasopressin that is formed. Vasopressin is an antidiuretic hormone that regulates water retention in your body; this can affect how much urine your kidneys make. The less vasopressin there is, the stronger the diuretic effect on your body, which can then lead to dehydration as you lose more water.

Heat Stroke Doesn’t Only Affect One Part of the Body

It isn’t just a single organ that will be adversely affected by intense heat. Excess heat that can’t be removed from the body accumulates, which is why your body temperature continues to rise even after you or your loved one has moved to a shady area. If allowed to continue, organ functions can slowly be impaired over time and eventually go through significant failure.

The unfortunate passing of the young child due to heat stroke illustrates how dangerous prolonged exposure to heat can be. According to reports, it’s stated that his organs and bodily fluids had all dried up.

Lucidity Is Not Always a Good Sign

You or your loved one might feel/seem lucid, but this period of regular cognitive function can be misleading. You or your loved one might feel fine at first, even after you’ve moved indoors, but if left unchecked, heat stroke can still manifest and cause further harm to your body. In fact, there is a “lucid interval” between 12 to 24 hours in which you or your loved one’s condition can quickly deteriorate if untreated.

You should always be on the lookout for any heat stroke symptoms, either in yourself or your loved one. If you have doubts, quickly see a doctor before the situation worsens.

Heat Stroke Can Happen Anytime

Heat stroke still can affect anyone, and there have been cases in the past even though the temperature may not be as high as it is these days. So long as you’re outside and the weather is hot and dry, you’re at risk of developing heat stroke – more so if you’re elderly or have existing medical issues.

It’s important to keep track of how long you’ve been out. Make sure that you have hydration with you at all times and wear loose clothing to allow sweat to evaporate and cool the body. Even then, you shouldn’t be out too long or overexert yourself in the hot weather.

Even when you’re indoors, you’ll still need to stay hydrated. Non-exertional heat stroke can still happen even if you’re not doing much. Be sure that the room you’re in has sufficient ventilation and smooth airflow so you don’t feel so overwhelmed by the heat.

Conclusion

With the weather being what it is, make sure you and your loved ones keep away from the heat and stay hydrated and cool at all times. If you need to go out, be sure to have an umbrella and water handy; wear loose-fitting clothes (preferably cotton or some other breathable fabric) as well. If you start to feel hot, find a shady place to take a break. Don’t force yourself to continue if you feel unwell.

Heat stroke is treatable if you detect it early, and preventable if you always take steps to keep yourself cool at all times.

References
About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
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