Sunstroke is a type of a medical condition known as hyperthermia, which is characterized by an abnormal increase in the body temperature. It may prove fatal if not treated immediately. This article provides information regarding the sunstroke treatment.
Sunstroke, also referred to as heat stroke, is a potentially dangerous condition, wherein the body’s heat-regulating ability fails, causing elevated body temperature. If the temperature reaches serious levels, then this condition is treated as a medical emergency, which requires immediate treatment to avert the possibility of serious damage or death. The treatment aims at lowering the body temperature so that it is within the acceptable range. It also focuses on rehabilitation and non-exposure to external sources of heat that may further aggravate this condition.
Sunstroke is primarily caused by over exposure to heat, or sun. Under normal circumstances, when your body is exposed to heat, the sweat glands which are the natural cooling systems start producing sweat. When the sweat evaporates, it cools the body and reduces the temperature. On prolonged or excessive exposure to heat, these cooling systems shut down, or cannot function properly. As the ambient temperature rises in the absence of a cooling mechanism, the temperature of the body rises proportionately, leading to sunstroke. Another cause of heat stroke is dehydration, or a situation where the body is running low on fluid levels, which inhibits the ability to release excess heat by sweating.
When a heat stroke occurs, the core body temperature usually rises above 40 °C (104 °F ). In most of the cases, fainting may be the first symptom to be observed. Some other symptoms include:
- Hot, dry skin. The inability to perspire, makes the skin dry, and the elevated ambient temperature heats up the body.
- Sunstroke may also be accompanied by reddening of the skin, which may indicate the need for sunburn treatment.
- Rapid increase in heart rate
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Headaches, fatigue, lethargy, and confusion
- Nausea and vomiting
As the situation progresses, there may be violent or hostile behavior, incoherent speech patterns, or hallucinations leading to seizures, coma, or death. At this stage, immediate sunstroke treatment is critical.
Sunstroke is a medical emergency which needs to be treated by a doctor. Therefore, if you observe a person experiencing a heat stroke, call your local emergency medical service immediately. In the mean time, begin to administer first aid to the affected person. The priority is to lower the body temperature, and this may be done in the following ways:
- Shift the person to a cool place immediately.
- Loosen or remove excess clothing such as socks, shoes, hats, etc., which may trap heat.
- Apply ice packs to the person’s armpits, neck, back, and groin. This may help reduce the body temperature since these areas are rich in blood vessels which are closer to the skin. However, care must be taken to ensure that the affected person is not wrapped in cold sheets or towels as this may trap the heat further.
- Immerse the person in a cold water bath to lower the ambient temperature immediately.
- In case of a sunstroke caused by dehydration, the fluid, salt, and electrolyte levels must be replenished either intravenously or orally. This condition may also lead to lack of blood supply to the brain, and therefore, the need for emergency heat stroke treatment is imperative to prevent serious consequences.
If you experience mild symptoms of sunstroke, self care may help avert its progression. The first step is to get out of the sun immediately. Remove constrictive clothing. Drink something cold, preferably with both sugar and salt. Sip the fluids slowly instead of gulping down. Do not drink caffeinated beverages and alcohol since they may aggravate dehydration. If possible, take a cool shower, this will further help in bringing down the body temperature. If not, use a cool cloth to wipe down your face, arms, and neck. You could also try lying down with your legs elevated above your head to help improve blood circulation.
Taking certain precautions may reduce the risk of sunstroke. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, so it’s advisable to take special care during sun exposure. Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially during summers and in the afternoon hours when the intensity of heat is very high. Wear cool, non constricting clothing to allow your body to ‘breathe’, and also allow the sweat to evaporate. Drink plenty of water, particularly during periods of exercise and exertion. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen to reduce the possibility of sunburn and skin irritation. Give yourself time to acclimatize to a new place if you are unused to high temperatures, and limit the exposure to sun.
Sunstroke treatment needs to be administered as soon as possible. It is a medical emergency that requires professional care, and depending on the severity, hospitalization may be required. However, the aforementioned precautionary measures may help minimize the risk of a heat stroke.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.