When your body temperature reaches 104 F or 40 C, you are considered to have heatstroke, and prolonged exposures to high temperatures or working out in hot weather are leading causes. If you do not cool down, heatstroke can progress with symptoms such as heavy sweating, nausea or feeling faint. If your body temperature continues to rise emergency treatment is needed. Untreated heatstroke can cause damage to your heart, kidneys, muscles and brain.
So, as teams practice outside with temperatures and humidity on the rise, please take note of heatstroke becoming a significant concern. To help, we’ve summarized heatstroke symptoms, risk factors and prevention tips below.
Heat Stroke Symptoms
• High body temperature. A body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.
- A lack of sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel moist.
- Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
- Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
- Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
- Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
- Headache. You may experience a throbbing headache.
- Confusion. You may have seizures, hallucinate, or have difficulty speaking or understanding what others are saying.
- Unconsciousness. You may pass out or fall into a state of deep unconsciousness (coma).
- Muscle cramps or weakness. Your muscles may feel tender or cramped in the early stages of heatstroke, but may later go rigid or limp.
Heat stroke follows two less serious heat-related conditions:
- Heat cramps. Heat cramps are caused by initial exposure to high temperatures or physical exertion. Signs and symptoms of heat cramps usually include excess sweating, fatigue, thirst and cramps, usually in the stomach, arms or legs. This condition is common in very hot weather or with moderate to heavy physical activity. You can usually treat heat cramps by drinking water or fluids containing electrolytes (Gatorade or other sports drinks), resting and getting to a cool spot, like a shaded or air-conditioned area.
- Heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion occurs when you don’t act on the signs and symptoms of heat cramps and your condition worsens. Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include a headache, dizziness or lightheadedness, nausea, skin that feels cool and moist, and muscle cramps. Often with heat exhaustion, you can treat the condition yourself by following the same measures used to treat heat cramps, such as drinking cool, nonalcoholic beverages, getting into an air-conditioned area or taking a cool shower. If your symptoms persist, seek medical attention immediately.
When to see a doctor:
If you think a person may be experiencing heatstroke, seek immediate medical help. Call 911 or your local emergency services number.
Take immediate action to cool the overheated person while waiting for emergency treatment.
- Help the person move to a shaded location and remove excess clothing.
- Place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the person’s head, neck, armpits and groin.
- Mist the person with water while a fan is blowing on him or her.
Heat Stroke Risk Factors
• Young or old age. Your ability to cope with extreme heat depends of the strength of your central nervous system. In the very young, the central nervous system is not fully developed and in adults over 65, the central nervous system begins to deteriorate, which makes your body less able to cope with changes in body temperature. Both age groups usually have difficulty remaining hydrated, which also increases risk.
• Genetic response to heat stress. The way your body responds to heat is partly determined by inherited traits. Your genes may play a vital role in determining how your body will respond in extremely hot conditions.
• Situations that require exertion in hot weather. Common examples of situations that can lead to heatstroke include military training in hot weather and participation in school sports such as football.
• Sudden exposure to hot weather. If you’re not used to high temperatures or high humidity, you may be more susceptible to heat-related illness if you’re exposed to a sudden increase in temperature, as might happen with a heat wave that occurs during late spring. Limit your physical activity for at least several days until you’ve gotten used to the higher temperatures and humidity. However, you may still have an increased risk of heatstroke until you’ve experienced several weeks of higher temperatures.
• A lack of air conditioning. Fans may make you feel better, but in sustained hot weather, air conditioning is the most effective way to cool down and lower humidity.
• Certain medications. Some medications place you at a greater risk of heatstroke and other heat-related conditions because they affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat. Be especially careful in hot weather if you take medications that narrow your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulate your blood pressure by blocking adrenaline (beta blockers), rid your body of sodium and water (diuretics), or reduce psychiatric symptoms (antidepressants or antipsychotics). Stimulants for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and illegal stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine also make you more vulnerable to heatstroke.
• Certain health conditions. You may be at increased risk of heatstroke if you have certain chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung disease. People who are very overweight, have difficulty moving or lack physical fitness also are at higher risk of heat-related problems.
Heat Stroke Prevention
• Wear loose fitting, lightweight clothing. Wearing excess clothing or clothing that fits tightly won’t allow your body to cool properly.
• Wear light-colored clothing if you’re in the sun. Dark clothing absorbs heat. Light-colored clothing can help keep you cool by reflecting the sun’s rays.
• Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature.
• Take extra precautions with certain medications. Be on the lookout for heat-related problems if you take medications that can affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat.
• Never leave children or anyone else in a parked car. This is a common cause of heat-related deaths in children. When parked in the sun, the temperature in your car can rise 20 degrees F (more than 6.7 C) in just 10 minutes. It’s not safe to leave a person inside a parked car in hot weather for any period of time, even if the windows are cracked or the car is in the shade. When your car is parked, keep it locked to prevent a child from getting inside.
• Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day. If you can’t avoid strenuous activity in hot weather, follow the same precautions and rest frequently in a cool spot. Try to schedule exercise or physical labor for cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or evening. Taking breaks and replenishing your fluids during that time will help your body regulate your temperature.
• Get acclimatized. Limit the amount you spend working or exercising in the heat until you’re conditioned to it. People who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness, including heatstroke. It can take several weeks for your body to adjust to hot weather.
• Be cautious if you’re at increased risk. If you take medications or have a physical condition that increases your risk of heat-related problems, avoid the heat and act quickly if you notice symptoms of overheating. If you participate in a strenuous sporting event or activity in hot weather, make sure there are medical services at the event in case a heat emergency arises.