Sunstroke, Heatstroke and their Prevention

Sunstroke is one way of baking your brain (or your kids brains) – there are others, but sunstroke tends to be the biggest risk as summer starts (it will do soon!). Baking your brains? Really? Sounds kinda dramatic…?

The Sun

By NikoLang (Own work (Screenshot)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Well, temperatures above 41 C start to cause proteins to breakdown (and your brain is made of proteins) heatstroke is defined as a body temp above 40 C. It doesn’t take much to see that sunstroke can be a medical emergency.

Now let’s back up a minute – ‘sunstroke’ really is just one form of heatstroke. For most of us it just happens to be the one that comes to mind, but anything which raises body temperatures can cause heatstroke – it doesn’t have to be the sun. So let’s consider sunstroke and heatstroke as essentially the same thing.

What is Heatstroke?

Your body (or your kids body) is threatened by excessive heat. Let’s say from playing outside in the sun, or running round lots, or perhaps training for that marathon? Whatever the cause, overheating causes loss of fluids. Water is sweated out and/or the body is heating up faster than it can cool down.

As we said above, in heatstroke, the body temperature rises to 40 C or above. This is not very good for you, your kids, elderly relatives, etc.

Who’s at risk from Heatstroke?

Well, possibly everyone, but especially:

  • Young kids
  • The elderly (especially so if they live alone and aren’t always being social)
  • People who are active outdoors (and so get sunstroke)

Here’s the thing, at least in the Sea 2 Sky area, we have a lot of young kids and just about everyone is active outside. Once the summer arrives, we’re all outside, and often by the water or up in the mountains where the effects of the sun can be doubled (see the Sun Protection post). You could be at risk, and your kids certainly are.

So what happens?

You treat them, being the great first aid attendant you are (you have attended one of our courses, right? You can even find them on Facebook!).

If they don’t get treated, they continue to heat up and have no means of cooling down properly (they may have sweated out all their sweat already!) That’s not very good for them, or you.

What will you notice?

Apart from the sun/heat you mean?  Well, they may become unconscious and it can happen quickly (remember we said this can be a medical emergency). They’ll have a headache and dizziness, becoming confused quickly – so you need to help, they can’t help themselves. There may be muscle cramps eventually risking convulsions. Skin may be sweaty & warm, becoming red & dry & hot depending on when you get there.

That doesn’t sound good – how to help?

Once you’re sure it is heatstroke/sunstroke:

  • Get them out of the heat!
  • Remove clothing
  • Wrap them in wet towels or sheets or cloths
  • Fan them, or use an air conditioned environment
  • If you have them, place cold packs on the neck, arm-pits & groin areas.
  • Treat appropriately if unconscious
  • Get medical help as appropriate

The key point to remember is that if it comes on quickly, you need to treat it quickly (which is different from heat exhaustion).

Has it ever happened to you or to someone you know? Share you experiences below for everyone’s benefit!

About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at Squamish General Hospital as the pharmacist manager when not busy training safety
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One Response to Sunstroke, Heatstroke and their Prevention

  1. Pingback: First Aid – a Blog Round-up | Safety un-Limited

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