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July 22, 2009 > Prevent Heat Stroke This Summer

Prevent Heat Stroke This Summer

Washington Hospital Offers Cooling Center On Hot Days

When the weather heats up in the summertime, it's tempting to spend more time outside in the sunshine. Too much heat, though, can result in heat stroke - a medical emergency that can be fatal if not treated promptly.

"Heat stroke is a type of hyperthermia, which is an abnormally elevated body temperature," says Dr. Steven Curran, a family medicine physician at Washington Hospital. "With heat stroke, your body's heat-regulating function is overwhelmed and your internal body temperature rises to 104 degrees or more. At 106 degrees, you actually will start to suffer brain damage or damage to other internal organs."

Dr. Curran notes that a milder condition known as "heat exhaustion" can sometimes be a precursor to heat stroke.

"Someone with heat exhaustion is likely to be sweating profusely and experience thirst, nausea, dizziness or weakness," he explains. "The person's body temperature may rise, but usually not much over 100 degrees. A person with heat stroke, on the other hand, generally stops sweating and experiences difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate. A heat stroke victim also may become confused or hostile and suffer hallucinations. The person also may lose consciousness."

The people who are most susceptible to heat stroke include young children, the elderly and people who are born with an impaired ability to sweat. People who are taking certain medications for high blood pressure, allergies or depression also may be more at risk for heat stroke.

"Taking precautions to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke is really key," Dr. Curran says. "If you wait until you're dehydrated and thirsty, you may have waited too long."

Dr. Curran offers the following suggestions for dealing with mild cases of heat exhaustion and preventing heat stroke:
* Stay indoors or in the shade if at all possible.
* Avoid strenuous exercise in hot weather.
* Avoid heavy meals during hot weather.
* Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes and a hat.
* Use air conditioning or cooling fans.
* Jump in the pool or spray water on yourself.
* Drink plenty of fluids.

"Staying hydrated is one of the most important measures you can take to avoid heat stroke," Dr. Curran emphasizes. "Your body loses electrolytes when you sweat, so drinking beverages such as Gatorade or Pedialyte is ideal. If water is all you have, though, it works. Do not consume alcoholic beverages because they may actually increase your dehydration. Beverages with caffeine might also raise your heart rate."

If you are with someone who appears to be suffering from heat stroke, Dr. Curran recommends:
* Call 911 immediately and ask for instructions while you wait for emergency medical personnel to arrive.
* Move the person to a cool area or into a cool bath of water. Do not leave the person unattended in a bath.
* Place ice packs under the person's arms and groin.
* Apply cool water to the skin and use a fan to blow cool air across the skin.
* Give cool beverages by mouth only if the person is conscious and mentally stable.

"It's also important to monitor people's body temperature with a thermometer as you cool them down," Dr. Curran adds. "If you try to cool someone down too quickly - by putting them in a very cold bath, for example - it could be counter-productive."

Washington Hospital Cooling Center

During the summer, Washington Hospital will open a cooling center whenever extremely high temperatures affect the local area. The cooling center will be located in the Community Health Resource Library located at 2500 Mowry Ave. (1st floor, Washington West building) in Fremont. Call Washington Hospital's Community Relations department at (510) 791-3417 to receive updated information on days the center will open. Cool refreshments including water and lemonade are free and the cooling center will also offer a variety of magazines, newspapers and internet access for people to enjoy.

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