13 November 2008
What is heat stroke
Heat stroke is also known as sunstroke or thermic fever. Heat stroke occurs when the body's core temperature rises above 40.5oC and its internal systems start to shut down. Heatstroke can be brought on by high environmental temperatures, by strenuous physical activity, or by other conditions that raise your body temperature. Whatever the causes, heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical treatment to prevent brain damage, organ failure or death.
Adequate hydration and keeping cool is the best way to prevent all heat-related illness, including heat stroke.
What are the symptoms of heat stroke
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
• very high body temperature
• red, hot and dry skin
• dry swollen tongue
• rapid pulse
• shallow, rapid breathing
• throbbing headache
• confusion or 'strange' behaviour
• possible loss of consciousness.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Seek medical assistance immediately, cool the person and apply first aid
Who is at risk?
All people are at risk of heat related illness; those at greatest risk are:
• people over 75 years
• babies and young children
• people with chronic diseases (high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes or circulatory diseases)
• people who are obese
• people on some medications
• people who are socially isolated
• people who work outdoors or in hot and poorly ventilated areas
• people engaging in vigorous physical activity in hot weather
• people who are not acclimatized to the heat, e.g., overseas visitors.
The health impacts of high temperatures are worse when:
• it is humid
• night time temperatures (i.e., daily minimum temperatures) remain high
• if is difficult to cool dwellings
• there are high pollution levels
• it remains hot for more than two days in a row.
How is it treated?
• Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance
• Get the person to a cool, shady area and lay them down while you're waiting for emergency medical help
• Cool the person rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the person in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the person with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan them vigorously, put ice pack on the person's wrists, armpits, groin area and side of neck.
• If they are able to drink, give the person cool non-alcoholic drinks.
• Do NOT give the person alcoholic drinks.
• If unconscious, position the person on their side and clear their airway.
• If medical attention is delayed, seek further instructions from ambulance or hospital emergency staff.
How can it be prevented?
Suggestions for preventing heat-related illness include:
• drinking plenty of water or other cool, non-alcoholic drinks. (Check with your doctor if you are on limited fluids or fluid pills)
• stay indoors or in the shade
• staying cool and keep air circulating around you. Use air-conditioning if possible (if you don't have air-conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping centre or public library)
• reducing physical activity and avoiding vigorous exertion in hot weather
• resting often if activity is unavoidable
• eating regular light meals
• wearing lightweight clothing
• taking a cool shower, bath or sponge bath
• checking on older, sick and frail people who may need help coping with the heat (at least twice a day)
• never leave a person or pets in a closed parked car.
If you must be out in the heat:
• limit outdoor activity to cooler times (mornings or evenings)
• when in the sun, prevent exposure and sunburn covering exposed skin with lightweight clothing, wearing a broad brimmed hat or legionnaire style cap, using sunscreen (at least SPF15) on exposed skin and wearing sunglasses. Remember to reapply sun screen every two hours and after swimming or activity that makes you perspire.
• drink plenty of fluids and rest regularly in the shade.
Suggestions for preventing heat-related illness in the workplace or at an event.
• Develop and follow a heat prevention plan.
• Knowing the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and know how to respond.
• Ensure that there is adequate ventilation, air movement, and cool shady places for people to rest.
• Ensuring that there is plenty of free water available and that it is easily accessible.