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Heatstroke: treatment and prevention

Heatstroke: treatment and prevention

Children and the elderly are the groups most at risk of suffering the effects of high temperatures

Friday, 7 July 2023, 17:39

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The heat wave that swept Spain last week claimed the first victims of the summer. Last year alone, more than 4,700 deaths related to overheating were recorded in Spain, according to data from the Carlos III health institute, and all the signs are that this summer will once again be one of the hottest on record.

The sudden rise in thermometers to over 40 degrees in many places has also triggered cases of heatstroke, “which are especially dangerous in children, the elderly, immunocompromised people, people with chronic diseases and kidney problems,” warns Dr Juan Carlos Montalvá, coordinator of the emergency working group of the Spanish Society of Primary Care (Semergen).

To avoid unnecessary scares, it is important to know how to prevent and treat them.

Heat stroke symptoms

Intense thirst, dry skin, exhaustion

 

Stomach ache, nausea or vomiting, dizzyness or fainting

Heat stroke symptoms

Intense thirst, dry skin, exhaustion

 

Stomach ache, nausea or vomiting, dizzyness or fainting

Heat stroke symptoms

Intense thirst

 

Dry skin

Exhaustion

Stomach ache

Nausea or vomiting

Dizzyness or fainting

Intense thirst

 

Dry skin

Exhaustion

Stomach ache

Nausea or vomiting

Dizzyness or fainting

Heatstroke is caused by a sudden rise in body temperature (above 40 degrees Celsius), usually as a result of exposure to a heat source, in this case environmental heat, “and is considered a medical emergency”.

“What happens is that the body completely loses the ability to regulate body temperature and reacts with a feeling of exhaustion, increased sweating, dizziness, headache, nausea, dry mucous membranes... and, in the most severe cases, with a clear decrease or alteration in the level of consciousness of the patient, who may even faint. The skin is usually red, hot and dry,” explains Dr Anselmo Fernández, a member of the emergencies group of the Spanish Society of General and Family Physicians (SEMG).

+40º

Excessive sweating

Very high body temperature

Headache

Disorientation

Cramp

Convulsions

Excessive sweating, very high body temperature, headache

+40º

Disorientation, cramp, convulsions

+40º

Excessive sweating

Very high body temperature

Headache

Disorientation

Cramp

Convulsions

Excessive sweating, very high body temperature, headache

+40º

Disorientation, cramp, convulsions

“Heatstroke is very common at the beginning of summer because our bodies are not yet sufficiently adapted to these high temperatures and it is difficult for them to regulate themselves.

“In fact, it is enough to walk for a few minutes in the blazing sun for a person to suffer heatstroke, especially those over 75 years of age, the age group that accounts for the highest percentage of deaths related to excess temperature,” explains Dr Juan Carlos Montalvá.

How to treat it

Move the person into the shade, as cool a place as possible and give them water to drink in small sips

Put a cloth soaked in cold water on their forehead, groin

and armpits

If unconscious, put them on their side and call 112

Cómo tratarlo

Move the person into the shade, as cool a place as possible and give them water to drink in small sips

Put a cloth soaked in cold water on their forehead, groin and armpits

If unconscious, put them on their side and call 112

Cómo tratarlo

Move the person into the shade, as cool a place as possible and give them water to drink in small sips

Put a cloth soaked in cold water on their forehead, groin

and armpits

If unconscious, put them on their side and call 112

Cómo tratarlo

Move the person into the shade, as cool a place as possible and give them water to drink in small sips

Put a cloth soaked in cold water on their forehead, groin and armpits

If unconscious, put them on their side and call 112

The first thing to do is to move the person to a shady, airy area so that their body temperature begins to drop.

“Although our natural tendency is to put them in the first air-conditioned place we see, it is not at all advisable because such a brutal contrast can worsen the symptoms,” they warn.

The next step is to lie them with their feet raised about 30 centimetres, loosen their clothes - even undress them if necessary - and cool their skin with wet cloths that can be placed on the neck, armpits, groin, head.....

“Afterwards, we can offer them water, an isotonic drink or even a juice for them to drink little by little. No alcohol or caffeinated drinks. “Even if the person recovers within a few minutes, it is not a bad idea to see a doctor. If the patient has lost consciousness, they should be placed on their side and call 112 immediately,” advises the coordinator of the Semergen emergency working group.

To avoid heatstroke it is important to follow these tips:

  1. 1

    Keep hydrated

drink water frequently, even if you are not thirsty. It is advisable to carry a bottle of water with you at all times and avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks as they aggravate dehydration.

  1. 2

    Dress appropriately

wear loose, breathable clothing, best in light fabrics and light colours so that they reflect sunlight rather than absorb it. A loose T-shirt, cool trousers, sunglasses and a good wide-brimmed hat - minimum seven centimetres - is the perfect outfit for hot days.

  1. 3

    Avoid the middle of the day

it is not advisable to go outside between 11am and &pm. If it is unavoidable, always seek shade.

  1. 4

    Lower body temperature

Take a cool shower or place a wet towel on your neck.

  1. 5

    Use air conditioning

It is advisable to keep it on or look for places that have it. Fans are another good way to cool the house.

  1. 6

    Rest regularly

It is advisable to stop physical activity from time to time to avoid heat exhaustion. If you are exercising or working outdoors, breaks should be frequent and in the shade.

Most vulnerable groups

There are several groups of people most at risk of heatstroke: “Infants and children under four years of age because they have a lower capacity to regulate their temperature; people over 65 years of age because of their reduced sensation of thirst and their poor adaptation to heat as their thermoregulatory centres are altered; pregnant women because, in their case, their body temperature is already higher; obese or very underweight people because of their greater difficulty in eliminating body heat; and patients with chronic illnesses or who take certain medication (laxatives, diuretics, antidepressants, antihypertensives, antihistamines....), as well as workers who carry out intense tasks in the open air,” Dr Fernández explains.

Be careful - dogs can also be affected

Heat stroke also affects animals, especially dogs, "because as they do not have sweat glands distributed throughout their bodies, they can only regulate their temperature by panting, and eliminate sweat through the pads of their paws, a process that is slow", warn experts from Purina, a firm specialising in pet food. Accelerated heart rate, accompanied by panting and dribbling and fast and nervous breathing are some of the most obvious signs that a dog is suffering from heatstroke.

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