Dealing with heat stroke in a timely manner is imperative to prevent serious complications and permanent damage. Heat stroke is often confused with heat exhaustion, which is generally not very serious as long as cooling measures are taken immediately. However, the two are significantly different in severity and treatment. The one thing to remember about heat stroke is that it is a medical emergency, and emergency health care services must be sought immediately. Do not think that merely cooling off and waiting for it to pass will be sufficient; once your body passes a certain temperature threshold, the time it takes to cool is a pivotal factor. At temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or above, brain damage is possible, as well as damage to other internal organs.
Look for potential warning signs in extremely hot weather, especially with high humidity, or during periods of heavy exertion. The heat stroke symptoms that are the easiest to observe include a flushed face, disorientation, loss of consciousness, and either profuse sweating or an absence of sweat. If someone stops sweating, it’s a sign of severe dehydration, and heat stroke is likely to follow quickly if it’s not already present – sweat is designed to cool the body, and without it the body loses a lot of its temperature regulation ability.
If you’re experiencing heat stroke, you may be able to hear your blood pounding in your ears, or feel a rapid pulse without looking for it on a normal pulse point. This is generally accompanied by severe headache, dizziness, darkening vision, and/or difficulty or inability to understand what people are saying around you. You may find it difficult to walk, breathe, or swallow. Speech may be slurred.
The only acceptable way of dealing with heat stroke is to seek emergency medical care immediately. Call your local hospital and ask them to send an ambulance, clearly detailing the symptoms and the activities in which you or the affected person were engaged before the onset of symptoms. Bear in mind that this is a time-sensitive and potentially deadly condition, and “watch and wait” does not apply.
While you’re waiting for emergency services, move to shade or a cool indoor area. If possible, mist the affected person with cool water while fanning them, or lay cool, wet sheets over them to try to bring their body temperature down. Wherever available, ice or ice packs can be placed under the armpits, on the back of the neck, and in the groin area. Anyone who is still capable of swallowing should drink small sips of water, and should lay down or recline until medical personnel arrive. With prompt treatment, it is possible to recover from heat stroke without any permanent damage.