Prevent, Recognize & Treat Heat Stroke

By Aja Webber – September 1, 2021

Texas heat is no joke. With temperatures ranging from 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit this summer, the risk of a heat stroke rises exponentially. Although common, heat stroke should not to be taken lightly as there can be some serious consequences.

According to the Mayo Clinic, heat stroke when left untreated can lead to damage in the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The longer treatment is withheld, the worse the damage gets — sometimes even leading to death. However, knowing what to look for and how to prevent it can help keep you and others safe. 

What is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. When the weather reaches extremely high temperatures, the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Your body temperature can reach up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in as little as 10 minutes. 

Knowing the warning signs of heat stroke is essential for outdoor activities as it allows you to catch it earlier and prevent serious injury. 

Andrew Reid is a lifeguard at Founders Memorial Park Pool in Dripping Springs, Texas. At the pool, all lifeguards are required to have a basic understanding of heat stroke and how to treat it. 

“Some of the first signs I usually notice are a rapid breathing rate, headache and feelings of nausea,” Reid says.

These, however, are just some of the indicators for heat stroke. In fact, the CDC explains the eight most important symptoms to look out for:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Red, hot and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

If you notice any of these symptoms in you or anyone else around you, seek medical assistance immediately.

 Preventing Heat Stroke

Although outdoor activities are fun, especially with the end of summer coming up, it might be a better idea to skip it altogether. For example, if the heat index is extremely high as it can be in Texas, staying inside might be the safest bet. However, if the outdoor adventure is just too exciting to pass up, there are some strategies to help prevent heat stroke.

The easiest way to ward off heat stroke is by drinking lots of fluids — and not alcoholic or caffeinated ones. The recommended daily intake of water is about two liters, but if in extremely hot temperatures, it may be necessary to drink even more.  

Aside from drinking water, include some electrolytes to prevent salt-depletion. One of the things that causes heat stroke is an inability to sweat due to low levels of sodium. Drinking Gatorade or another electrolyte-boosting drink is an essential part of preventing heat stroke.

Sometimes it’s easy to skip out on sunscreen, but it is actually an important part of preventing heat stroke. Sunburns can affect the body’s ability to cool down and can lead to dehydration. Wearing light, loose fitting clothes is also a great way to stay cool.

“My best advice is to limit your exposure to the sun for long periods of time,” Reid says. “Wear a hat or something to cover up the top of your head, and drink lots of water if you’re outside for prolonged periods of time.”

Whenever possible, it’s best to schedule outdoor activities for the coolest times of day — early morning and early evening are safe options

How To Deal With It

Now that you know what heat stroke is and how to prevent it, you might be wondering what to do if someone actually gets a heat stroke. The first thing is seeking medical attention; if there is not a medical professional on sight, call 911 immediately.

While waiting for medical assistance, here are some ways the CDC says you can help:

  • Get to a cool, shady area (in an air-conditioned space if possible).
  • If shady, cool spaces are not available, submerge the victim in cold water. You can use a garden hose, wet sponge, pool or bath for this.
  • Keep the victim hydrated.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101 or 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Do not give the victim alcoholic or caffeinated beverages.

The most important thing is to continue monitoring the person with heat stroke. If you notice their condition worsening, don’t wait for help to come and take them directly to a hospital right away.

Final Tips

Heat stroke is a serious condition, but it can be prevented. Austin has so many great outdoor activities, and you shouldn’t let the risk of heat stroke stop you from partaking in them. Just keep in mind the importance of hydration and staying cool. Instead of going for a hike or bike ride, maybe opt for swimming, paddle boarding or lounging in the creek. Water activities allow you to enjoy the outdoors while staying cool.

If you are under the age of four, over the age of 65 or overweight, you are more at risk for heat-related illnesses. If you fall into one of these categories, it’s even more important to take precautions.

With the summer coming to an end, don’t let heat stroke get you down. Grab your water bottle, sunscreen and hat and go enjoy the great outdoors!


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