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Recognizing the Warning Signs of Heat Stroke

When temperatures and humidity combine, they can make a deadly combination. It is important to be aware of the signs of heat stroke and to take precautions to prevent it from happening.

Nashville, Ark. – Heat index temperatures this week are expected to be around the 100 degree mark. When temperatures and humidity combine, they can make a deadly combination. It is important to be aware of the signs of heat stroke and to take precautions to prevent it from happening.

As children and young adults, we think we are invincible from the heat, sun and humidity. But heat stroke can affect everyone from infants and the elderly to athletes and workers whose jobs are mostly outside. In Arkansas, where temperatures go from temperate to terrible in a day, knowing how to avoid, recognize and treat heat stroke is vital in surviving our summer weather.

So, just what is heat stroke?

Heat stroke happens when our body’s cooling system fails, raising our body heat to dangerously high levels. When we’ve been outside working, exercising or playing when it is very hot outside, and we haven’t had enough water to drink or time to cool off, a heat stroke can happen.

When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Some conditions that can limit the ability to regulate temperature include old age, youth (ages zero to four), obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn and prescription drug and alcohol use.

Symptoms of heat stroke

It is crucial to know how to avoid heat stroke as well as recognize the symptoms because a stroke can cause permanent injury or even death. Sometimes heat stroke symptoms can seem like those of a heart attack. Here are the signs to look for: high body temperature, nausea, headache, dizziness, extreme fatigue, no perspiration on the skin, hot red or flushed skin which is dry to the touch, difficulty breathing/rapid heartbeat, hallucinations and odd behavior such as confusion, agitation and disorientation.

Treating heat stroke

If you recognize any of these signs in a person and think they may be experiencing heat stroke, you should immediately call 911. Then you can use these steps to stabilize the person affected.

First, get the person out of the sun, preferably indoors and have them lie down, with their feet elevated. Remove the person’s clothing and begin cooling them off by washing them with cool water or placing ice packs around the body, especially the groin, armpits and back of the neck. This will help lower the body temperature back to a normal range.

Next, give the person sips of water to rehydrate them. Be sure they drink slowly and in small amounts at a time so they don’t get sick. Keep doing this until medical personnel have arrived.

Preventing heat stroke

If you are going to be outside – whether it’s to work or play – wear loose-fitting clothes in a light shade. Cover your head with a hat or cap, and drink plenty of water before, during and after you are in the sun. Avoid very cold drinks because they can cause stomach cramps. Don’t drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar. (These actually cause you to lose more body fluid.) Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. If your doctor has limited your fluid intake or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced. They help to regulate body temperature. When exercising, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.

Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. Electric fans may provide some comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Avoid using your stove and oven to help maintain a cooler temperature in your home.

Schedule outdoor activities during cooler times of the day; early in the morning or at dusk. Humidity is especially risky to overheating. If it is humid out and hot, just stay indoors, especially if you have existing medical conditions, are pregnant or elderly. Check on people who are at a higher risk more often during times of extreme heat.

Remember, to keep cool during hot times of the summer and use common sense when working or playing outside. For more information on preventing or recognizing the warning symptoms of heat, contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517  or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N Main St, Nashville AR 71854
(870) 845-7517


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