How to spot heat stroke as summer winds down

August 24, 2010

The long, sun-filled days of summer mean more time outdoors and lots of physical activity. Add activities like preseason football practice, band camp and athletic team tryouts, and you have children and adults with an increased risk of heat stroke.

“Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia – an abnormally elevated body temperature accompanied by physical and neurological symptoms,” says Kory Gill, D.O., assistant professor of family and community medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “Unlike heat cramps and heat exhaustion, two less severe forms of hyperthermia, heat stroke is a true medical emergency that can be fatal if not properly and promptly treated.”

The body normally generates heat as a result of metabolism and usually dissipates that heat mostly by radiation through the skin or by evaporation of sweat. However, in extreme heat, high humidity or vigorous physical exertion, the body may not be able to dissipate that heat, causing heat stroke.

Heat stroke also can be caused by dehydration, a condition in which the body does not consume and retain enough water. A dehydrated person may not be able to sweat fast enough to dissipate heat.

“Pay attention to young people, especially athletes and individuals who work outside and physically exert themselves under the sun,” Dr. Gill advises. “Look for the absence of perspiration, flushed skin, a rapid pulse and labored breathing. Victims of heat stroke may also hallucinate or seem agitated and disoriented.”

If you notice any of these symptoms, immediately call 911. Cool the victim by relocating him or her to a shady area, removing excess clothing, applying tepid water to the skin and fanning to promote sweating and evaporation, Dr. Gill says. Placing ice packs under the armpits and groin also can help.

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