Heatstroke is a condition that occurs when the body overheats and organs begin to stop functioning correctly. During the summer, heat and humidity make it easier for the body to overheat. A headache and/or dizziness with or without muscle spasms are frequently the first signs of dehydration. Start drinking water, get into the shade, and stop activity immediately. More severe dehydration is called heatstroke when major organs begin to decrease functioning. The kidneys are often affected first with an elevated creatinine. Thinking and concentration or vision may be cloudy as the brain is not receiving enough blood flow/oxygen. The body will try to send blood to the heart, lungs, and kidneys first to keep the body alive. Hats can help keep your head cool. Cotton loose-fitting clothes will also help keep you cool.
If you are going to be working in the heat, start drinking water before exercising. Drink at least a gallon of water daily. All water and salt lost in sweat must be replaced. Salt tablets are available over the counter at the pharmacy. If sodium, potassium, magnesium, or calcium levels are low, a person can have muscle spasms. Your physician can check levels for you. If you are having symptoms of dehydration or the more severe heatstroke, go to the emergency room immediately.
The best medicine is prevention. Make sure you and your animals have plenty of cool water to drink at all times when you are outside. Use the shade as much as possible. Wear sunscreen and eye protection. Eyes are sensitive to sun damage as well, if you get hot enough to dehydrate or have a heatstroke; contacts can melt to the eye. If you are sensitive to the heat or humidity, stay inside with the air conditioning.
Gay Fulkerson, MD, is a board certified family physician and wound care/hyperbaric specialist.