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Heat stroke

During the hot summer months, it is important to practice proper heat safety. Debbie Lyn Toomey, RN, Injury Prevention Coordinator at Tufts Medical Center weighs in on the differences between heat stroke and heat stress and how to recognize and treat your symptoms. 

What is heat stroke? 

Heat stroke, also known as sunstroke, ranks as the most serious of heat-related illnesses. Heat stroke occurs when our body overheats and is unable to control and regulate its temperature. It’s important to know that heat stroke can happen in as little as 10 – 15 minutes.

How do I know if I am experiencing heat stroke?

You may be experiencing a heat stroke if you experience these three factors:

  • rapid rise in body temperature to 104 Fahrenheit or higher degrees 
  • failure to sweat
  • your body isn't able to cool down

What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

  • Rapid rise in temperature to 103 Fahrenheit or higher
  • Hot, red, or damp skin
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures 

How do I help someone suffering from a heat stroke?

If you suspect someone is suffering from a heat stroke, think “Call, Cool, & Comfort” 

  • This is considered an emergency! Call 911 first then cool the person down.
  • Move the person to a cool shaded area or air conditioned place.
  • If a person is unconscious, don't force them to drink water.
  • Lay the person down and elevate their legs
  • Wet the person's skin (head, neck, armpits, forehead and groin area) with cool/cold wet cloths, allow air to circulate around their body. You can also soak the person’s clothing with cool water. 
  • Another way to cool down Use a garden hose or water spray to help cool the person, avoiding the face to prevent suffocation from the force of the water 
  • If trained in CPR, continuously assess for the need to initiate it