Heatstroke Scenario

Good news: Summer is coming!

And with it, a lot more entertainment options. Festivals, beach days, lake trips, hiking and camping.

Ed is a volunteer firefighter. He prides himself on his athletic ability and his involvement in the community. So on a beautiful sunny Saturday, he heads out to the festival in the middle of town. At lunchtime, he has a burger and a Coke and then gets back to work.

After 6 hours of standing around in the hot sun, he has a headache. He’s sweating heavily, but hey, it’s summer. He notices some muscle cramps in his legs. If it were someone else, Ed would immediately consider they have heat exhaustion. But Ed is an athlete. He doesn’t have any medical problems. He decides to walk off the cramps.

A young couple approaches him, seeing he is a firefighter. The young lady has twisted her ankle. He assists them to the first aid tent. When he gets there, one of the nurses asks him to sit down. He is red in the face and not sweating any more. He feels a bit dizzy and nauseous and sits down. The nurse checks his temperature, pulse and blood pressure, hands him a water bottle.

“Ed, you don’t look so good,” he hears her say as his vision starts to go gray around the edges.

Ed might carefully sip a few cold water bottles and feel fully restored. Or, he might pass out and wake up in the emergency department getting IV fluids and a few tests to check his electrolytes and heart function.

Ed should be fine. Ed’s grandfather or his infant daughter, in similar conditions, would be likely to get much sicker and have a harder time recovering.

Heatstroke can happen to anyone. Heat cramps and heat exhaustion can sneak up on you, especially if you are used to toughing it out. Even people who are accustomed to strenuous activity should be extra mindful of staying hydrated and getting cooled off in the summer heat. Alcohol consumption and spending time out on the water can be factors in having a good time, but also in bringing heatstroke on more rapidly.

Heatstroke occurs when temperatures get over 40C (about 104F) and symptoms include feeling weak, vomiting, fast heart rate due to dehydration, rapid breathing as the body tries to get rid of heat, and NOT sweating–as the body tries to conserve hydration. Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are earlier, less severe stages.

Click here for more information about heat-related illnesses and appropriate first aid.

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