When $%&! Goes Wrong: Heat Stroke

By Adam Berkelmans

Our adventures to procure wild food, whether through hunting, fishing, or foraging, can bring us into some extreme situations and sometimes, despite our best efforts, $%&! can go wrong. In this series, we’re going to talk about different adverse situations you may find yourself in, and the best ways to deal with them.

This month, we’re talking about Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

This will apply to anyone who spends time hunting, foraging, fishing, scouting, camping, or hiking in the backcountry as well as to those working at home or in the backyard. Most regions of North America can get very hot at certain times of the year, which can be dangerous to the outdoors person. Here are some ways to avoid getting heat stroke in the first place, as well as what to do if you do get it.

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Heat Exhaustion

Before heat stroke sets in, you’re likely to first suffer from what is called Heat Exhaustion. If steps are taken at this point, you can avoid heat stroke and quickly feel better.

Heat exhaustion is usually caused by elevated temperatures, resulting in increased sweating and water and salt loss from the body. Those who are elderly, suffer from high blood pressure, or who are very active outdoors, whether through work or recreation, are particularly susceptible. Excessive water loss can result in extreme dehydration, causing thirst, headache, weakness, and fainting. Excessive salt loss can result in muscle cramps, nausea/vomiting, and dizziness.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Thirst
  • Irritability
  • Pounding Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Heavy Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Reduced Urination (and dark tinted urine)
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Confusion
  • Skin Rash
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Pale Skin
  • High Skin Temperature

Recognizing any of these symptoms (in you, or your party) and taking prompt action can help you avoid heat stroke, which can be very dangerous. First aid should be administered as soon as possible.

The American Center for Disease Control recommends:

  • Take the victim to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment.
  • Call 911 if medical care is unavailable.
  • Have someone stay with the victim until help arrives.
  • Remove the victim from the hot area and give liquids to drink.
  • Remove unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks.
  • Cool the victim with cold compresses or have the worker wash their head, face, and neck with cold water.
  • Encourage frequent sips of cool water.

Sports drinks with electrolytes and small salty snacks can be very valuable as they can help replenish salt content in the body. Avoid taking salt pills.

If you are near a vehicle or building (if it’s not yours, ask to use it), try sitting in the air conditioning until you cool off. If you can’t get inside, find a cool, shady place to sit down for a while.

People who have suffered from heat exhaustion can be particularly sensitive to heat for the next few days, so be sure to stay indoors and take it easy.

To prevent heat exhaustion, be sure to:

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that blocks the sun
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing
  • Use sun screen
  • Avoid drinking beverages with caffeine or alcohol (these make you lose more fluids)
  • Drink lots of fluids before you leave and during your time outside, and bring sports drinks along with you
  • Don’t push yourself – if you feel the beginning of any of the above symptoms, find somewhere shady to take a break and have a drink

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke (also known as sun stroke) is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause permanent disability or death if the person does not receive emergency treatment. (cdc.gov)

Although heat stroke most often happens to individuals over 50 years of age, extreme conditions can cause it in even the most fit young athletes. Those with diseases, diabetes, heavy alcohol intake, and hot outdoor jobs are particularly susceptible.

Heat stroke most often happens after signs of heat exhaustion have set in, but it can sometimes happen without any warning signs or visible heat injury.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Confusion
  • Slurred Speech
  • Throbbing Headache
  • Profuse Sweating
  • A Cessation of Sweating and Red, Hot, and Dry Skin
  • Seizures
  • Cramps
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Staggering
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Rapid, Shallow Breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Coma
  • Can Lead to Death

The American Center for Disease Control recommends:

To prevent heat stroke, take the same precautions as you would for heat exhaustion (see above).

Remember, it doesn’t necessarily take a hot blazing day in the desert to cause heat exhaustion and heat stroke. A hot day in the park, a summer parade downtown, a walking tour, short hikes, and even gardening in the backyard can easily cause these problems, especially for those who are more sensitive to heat.

Watch for warning signs in yourself and in others and stay safe out there!

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