KIMBERLY, Wis. – As the temperature rises and we spend more time having fun or working under the intensifying sun, it’s important to protect ourselves from the potential dangerous effects of heatstroke.
“Heatstroke can occur when a person has too much exposure to heat, causing their body to lose the ability to regulate body temperature,” explained Amanda Kossak, MD, a family medicine physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Appleton North. “A person is in heatstroke when their core temperature exceeds 104ºF and they are experiencing dysfunction of the central nervous system.”
Symptoms of heatstroke can include:
- Red, hot and dry skin with no sweating
- Rapid or strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
- Upset stomach
- Dizziness, confusion, irritability or lost consciousness
“People should seek immediate medical attention if they have any of these symptoms related to exposure to heat,” Dr. Kossak said. “Without treatment, organ damage or even death can occur.”
While waiting to be seen, the person should be moved to a shady area or indoors. Help the person lower their temperature by having them enter a cool bath or shower, or spray them gently with a cool garden hose or sponge them with cool water. Even simply fanning them can help. Continue cooling the person until their body temperature decreases to below 102ºF and stays there, she said.
Do not give fluids to a heatstroke victim as they can’t safely consume them while their consciousness is altered, Dr. Kossak said.
Infants, young children, older adults and those with chronic medical conditions are most vulnerable to experiencing heatstroke. Heat regulation is related to the central nervous system, which is underdeveloped in the very young, and breaking down in older adults.
The best defenses against heatstroke include:
- Limiting time in the heat and take frequent breaks.
- Staying well-hydrated with non-caffeinated beverages. Water is best.
- Wearing lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing, and a hat.
- Stay out of the sun during the most intense heat hours between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
- Wearing sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) 15 or higher.
- Cooling down in air-conditioned buildings.
- Checking on friends or neighbors at risk of heat stroke.
- Never leaving children or pets in the car, even with the windows cracked.
Heatstroke vs. Heat Exhaustion
Heatstroke is different from heat exhaustion, in which patients might experience heavy sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, pale skin, dizziness, headaches, upset stomach or vomiting, and fainting, she said.
People can ease symptoms of heat exhaustion by cooling down with non-alcoholic beverages, taking a cool shower or bath, changing into lightweight clothing, moving into an air-conditioned location and getting rest.
“In the case of heat exhaustion, you should seek medical attention if you have high blood pressure, or have severe symptoms or problems with heat generally,” Dr. Kossak said. “Also, if the symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour, you should be seen by a provider.”
Again, the very young, older adults, and those with chronic conditions including obesity can be risk factors for heat exhaustion. Additionally, certain medications impact the body’s ability to regulate heat or keep hydrated. For those prone to heat exhaustion, watching the heat index, which considers the temperature and humidity, can help. A heat index of 91ºF or more is considered higher risk for heat exhaustion. According to Dr. Kossak, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, so it’s important to take all the right precautions and pay attention to your symptoms.
Dr. Kossak wants to encourage people to enjoy the warm months, safely.
“Summer goes quickly in Wisconsin,” said Dr. Kossak. “Let’s get outside and enjoy all of the wonderful activities our state has to offer. Head out to the lake, hit the hiking trails and visit a park with the kids – please just be aware of the heat, and take steps to avoid any issues.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care
Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.