If you’re a movie fan and pay close attention, you’ve probably noticed a few Hollywood truisms. The more oppressive the heat is, the more slowly the ceiling fans turn. The same thing is true for desk fans in small-town newspaper bureaus—especially in the American south during the heart of summer.
The months of June, July and August bring longer days and brilliant sun throughout most of the U.S. This is the time of year that many of us look forward to. For adults and children alike, the season offers great opportunities to spend lots of time outdoors being active in the fresh air. But these months can also bring with them a lot of heat, so it’s important to know how to keep cool and how to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
As ambient temperatures rise, the body normally regulates its own temperature by sweating. However, in cases of extreme heat, the body’s regulation mechanism can sometimes be overwhelmed, leading first to heat exhaustion and then to heat stroke if nothing is done. The risk of heat stroke is particularly pronounced on days that are both extremely hot and extremely humid, since excessive humidity does not allow the body to cool itself properly through sweating.
Those at greater risk of heat stroke are babies, the elderly, those with heart, kidney or lung disease, and people who use some types of medication. When it is very hot and humid, body temperature in those affected can rise very quickly. In fact, it can take as little as 10-15 minutes for body temperature to reach 106 °F or higher. With this in mind, here are some signs of heat stroke to look out for:
- Body temperature 103 °F or above
- Hot, red, dry skin, with no sweating
- Strong, rapid pulse and deep breathing
- Weak pulse and shallow breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Throbbing headache
Heat stroke is a serious condition that can cause organ failure, brain damage, and eventually death if not treated promptly. If you believe someone may have heat stroke, move them to a cool location out of direct sunlight and call emergency services immediately. While waiting for help, you can do some things to help minimize the damage.
Attempt to reduce the victim’s body temperature as quickly as possible by removing excess clothing and applying cool water or ice. A bathtub filled with cool water, a cold shower or ice packs placed on the head, neck, groin and armpits can all help. In situations with lower humidity, you can also wrap the victim in a sheet that has been soaked in cold water and place them in front of a fan.
As with many conditions related to personal health and safety, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid becoming a victim of heat stroke yourself, be sure to keep well hydrated, wear light clothing, don’t drink alcohol, and seek out air-conditioned environments on very hot days. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, consider going to the mall, the library or taking in a movie. Plus, if you do plan on spending time outside, be alert for the early signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and take action quickly if necessary. Using these tips will help you to enjoy your summer safely!