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Monday, 16 December 2019 11:23

Heat Stroke Featured

Heat Stroke

With the hot weather upon us it is time to consider the effects of high temperatures upon our health. The most dangerous of all these conditions is termed heat stroke. But what is it exactly?

Heat stroke is where the body’s core temperature rises to such an extent that its cooling defences are overcome and the rising temperature starts to damage the tissues. It is also called hyperthermia. Generally the temperature is above 40 degrees Celsius.

It can be due to other diseases such as severe infection and certain medications although these are rare. Usually it is related to environmental factors associated with high temperatures such as the athlete exercising in high heat or the young child left in a hot car.

People particularly at risk are those that have an impaired ability to regulate their body temperature and/or are prone to dehydration. These include:

  • The elderly and the very young
  • Pregnant women and those breast feeding
  • The overweight
  • Those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes or heart failure
  • Those with neurological conditions such a spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis
  • People with dementia or other intellectual disabilities
  • Those working or exercising in hot environments.

As the body temperature rises the nervous system in particular starts to show the effects. This same system is responsible for controlling processes and behaviours that help to cool our bodies. So this damage leads to a vicious cycle of rising temperature with further damage to the central nervous system and an increasing inability to deal with the problem.

Symptoms include:

  • Headache, dry mouth, thirst, cramps, nausea and vomiting in the early stages
  • The skin may be dry and flushed
  • An altered mental state will then develop with dizziness, confusion, aggression, a loss of consciousness and seizures

This is an emergency. If something is not done the person is unlikely to survive. They must be immediately cooled and seek hospital emergency department care promptly.

Cooling consists of:

  • Removal from a hot environment
  • Remove excessive clothing
  • Wetting them with water and fanning the damp skin
  • Putting cold packs in the groin, armpits and the back of the neck
  • If possible immersing them in cool water

Prevention in hot weather includes:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Wear sensible clothing for the temperature and the activity you are doing
  • Seek shelter from the sun and the heat
  • Keep your house cool
  • Avoid strenuous activities in hot weather
  • Stand ready to check on and help those you know who are at special risk

With good preventative strategies, an awareness of the problem and common sense - heat stroke is avoidable.