Preventing Heat Stroke

Preventing Heat Stroke | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Many regions across Canada are experiencing high heat events, are also commonly referred to as extreme heat or heat waves. In Metro Vancouver, for example, inland temperatures have reached 31°C, and are expected to remain that high until at least mid-week. During extreme heat events or heat waves, your health can be at risk and you may develop what’s known as heat stroke, which can potentially be fatal.

Heat stroke, which is most common during the summer months, is when your body begins to overheat and reaches a temperature of 40°C or higher. It occurs as a result of being exposed to high temperatures (including physical exertion in high temperatures) for a prolonged period of time. While heat stroke more commonly affects individuals who are older (those over the age of 50, for example), it can also affect younger people, including babies – and even the healthiest of people, such as athletes. Heat stroke is something that should be taken seriously, as if it is not, it can do serious damage to the brain and other internal organs. Below is some information on heat stroke, including the signs and symptoms you should watch for, as well as what important preventative measures you can take to avoid developing heat stroke all together, and what to do in the event that you or someone you know does happen to develop heat stroke.

Preparing for extreme heat/weather is one of the best ways to prevent heat stroke. This means paying close attention to local weather forecasts (including forecasts of regions you might be travelling to) so that you know when you should take extra precautions to keep yourself protected. As mentioned, you also need to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms that are associated with heat stroke, which can include the following:

• Severe, throbbing headache
• Dizziness and/or light-headedness
• Red, hot and/or dry skin
• Lack of sweating (despite heat)
• Muscle cramps and/or weakness
• Nausea and vomiting
• Rapid heartbeat
• Rapid and/or shallow breathing
• Confusion and/or disorientation
• Seizures
• Loss of consciousness

If you develop any of the aforementioned symptoms or see someone who may be exhibiting signs of heat stroke, it is important to immediately move to a cool area and drink water. You can also cool down by applying a cool cloth/compress (such as an ice pack) to the skin. If the person has lost consciousness, you should call 911 immediately.

As mentioned, drinking water is important – not just after you’re already exhibiting signs of heat stroke, but prior to developing any signs, as water helps to keep the body hydrated and regulate its temperature. You should also drink water before, during and after any kind of physical activity. To make water taste more appealing, you can add a small amount of flavouring to it; many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, also have a high water content and can be another great way to increase your water intake if you don’t happen to have drinking water readily available.

Of course warmer weather means wanting to spend more time outdoors, but this, too, can lead to heat stroke, so always make sure you’re keeping your body protected by wearing loose-fitting clothing, a hat, and taking breaks from the sun by moving to cool, shaded or air-conditioned areas. For some people, spending time outdoors in extreme heat can be too much – but so can spending time indoors, especially if you live in a warm apartment building or don’t have air conditioning. If this is the case, having an oscillating fan can be just as helpful. You can also block direct sunlight by keeping blinds and curtains closed, while having windows open at night (if it is safe) once temperatures begin to cool down

Other heat-related illnesses include things like heat rash (in which your hands, ankles and/or feet become swollen), heat cramps (in which you develop muscle cramping), heat rash, and heat exhaustion.