Exercising outside can be one of the great pleasures of summer. But a sweaty body and racing pulse may be signaling more than your performance – it may be a sign of life-threatening heatstroke.
Although drinking plenty of water can help, you can still get heatstroke even if you aren’t dehydrated, particularly while exercising. Athletes are at special risk and the bulk of heatstroke deaths in high-school and college sports are in football, where heavy gear and sometimes insufficient breaks during practice contribute to overheating, researchers say. Running is also risky, as it doesn’t have a natural break in play like team sports.
Some experts say victims should be cooled quickly in cold-water baths before going to a hospital. Others say call 911 and slowly cool the victim until help arrives. Either way, spotting heatstroke as fast as possible is the key.
In adults, confusion or irrational speech or behavior is often the obvious sign. Other symptoms can include red, hot and dry skin, rapid strong pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea and unconsciousness, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sometimes a person stops sweating when heatstroke hits. Infants and children may exhibit lethargy and reduced interaction with others. Also, aging bodies don’t regulate temperature as efficiently, making the elderly particularly susceptible, according to the CDC.
Older people may also be on medications that worsen the problem.
Heat exhaustion, a milder form of heat-related illness, can sometimes provide an early warning before heatstroke occurs, but not always. In heat exhaustion, a person’s heart is working extra hard to pump blood to the skin in an attempt to cool the body. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, dizziness, headache and nausea.
During the soaring temperatures of the dog days of August, hydration helps, and water is just as good as sports drinks, though people shouldn’t count on it to prevent heatstroke. Still, heat exhaustion suffers should balance heavy water intake with fruit juice or sports drinks to keep the water from diluting the body’s electrolytes.
The temperatures in Southeast Arkansas will reach some of the highest ever recorded in August. Already temperatures have soared to 107-plus degrees, so, everyone young or old, dress appropriately, limit time in direct sun and physical activity, wear a hat, use suntan lotion, take in plenty of liquids and watch out for the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion as described above.
Editor’s note: Tips on spotting and taming heatstroke systems were provided by Drew Memorial Hospital.