Sunstroke is a serious condition and should not be taken lightly. Sometimes called heat stroke, sunstroke happens if the body is exposed to hot temperatures for prolonged periods of time, causing one’s temperature to rise to 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
If you are suffering from heatstroke alone or are assisting someone else, there are basic steps you can take. Your first goal is to lower the body’s temperature slowly. If you can successfully do this early enough, your body will naturally recover. If you suffer from a heatstroke long enough, there are serious repercussions. If at all possible, get medical attention promptly.
Method 1 of 2: Helping Someone with Sunstroke
1. Call emergency services. Depending on the symptoms and the person, you may wish to call your primary care physician or 911. Pay close attention to symptoms. Prolonged heat stroke damages the brain, causing anxiety, confusion, seizures, headache, dizziness, light headed ness, hallucinations, coordination problems, unconsciousness, and restlessness.  Sunstroke can also affect the heart, kidneys, and muscles. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Call emergency services if you observe any of the following symptoms:
- Signs of shock (ex. bluish lips and fingernails, confusion)
- Loss of consciousness
- A temperature over 102F (38.9C)
- Rapid breathing and/or pulse
- Weak heartbeat, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, and dark urine
- Seizures. If the person is having seizures, clear the area for the patient’s safety. Place a tongue depressor or something similar in his mouth to reduce the risk of him biting his tongue. If you can, place a pillow under his head so it does not bang on the ground during the convulsions.
- If milder symptoms persist for an extended time (longer than an hour), make the call.
2. Avoid medications. Our first instinct is to take medicine when we don’t feel good. If you are suffering from sunstroke, certain medications will only make the situation worse. Don’t use medications for fever like aspirin or acetaminophen. These can be harmful during a heatstroke because they may increase bleeding. Medications for a fever work well on someone with an infection, not on someone with heat stroke.
- Don’t give the person anything by mouth if he is vomiting or unconscious. Anything that enters the person’s mouth could become a choking hazard.
3. Cool the person down. While you wait for emergency services, get the person to a shady, cool (preferably air-conditioned) area.
- Help the person remove any extra clothing (hat, shoes, socks) to aid in the cooling process.
- Get the person into a cool bath, shower, stream, or pond if possible. Avoid very cold temperatures. The same goes for using ice, which may also mask the signs of a slow heartbeat and cardiac arrest. Do not do this if the person is unconscious. You can put a cool, wet rag on the back of the neck, on the groin, and/or under the armpits. If you can, mist and fan the person to promote evaporative cooling. Either mist the person with cool water or place a wet sheet over their body before fanning them; this will cause evaporative cooling, which is faster than simply wetting the person.
- Do not rub the person’s body with alcohol. This is an old wives’ tale. Alcohol cools the body too quickly, which can result in a dangerous temperature fluctuation. Rub the person’s body with cool water, never alcohol.
4. Replenish fluids and electrolytes. Have the person sip either Gatorade or salty water (1tsp salt per qt water) to counteract both dehydration and the loss of salts through sweating. Don’t allow him to drink quickly, which can induce shock. If you don’t have any salt or Gatorade, plain water will help also.
- Alternatively, you can administer salt tablets. Doing so can help balance electrolytes. Follow the instructions on the bottle.
5. Have the person stay calm. When the patient stays calm, the patient can help.Minimize agitation by breathing deeply. Focus on other things besides your sunstroke. Anxiety will only make your blood pump faster, raising your temperature a little more. Read How to Calm Yourself During an Anxiety Attack for more pointers.
- Massage the person’s muscles. Massage gently. Your goal is to increase the circulation in the muscles. Muscle cramps are one of the early symptoms of sunstroke. Usually the calf areas are most affected.
6. Lay the person down. One of the most prominent effects of sunstroke is fainting. Protect against fainting by laying the person down.
- If the person does faint, turn him onto his left side with his left leg bent for stabilization. This position is called the recovery position. Check the person’s mouth for vomit, so they do not choke.The left side is the best side for blood flow because our hearts are on that side.
Method 2 of 2: Preventing Sunstroke
Know who is at risk. The elderly, workers in hot environments, obese, diabetics, those with kidney, heart, or circulation problems, and babies are at high risk. Those that have inactive or inefficient sweat glands are particularly susceptible to sunstroke. Avoid activities that force your body to retain heat, especially when it is hot outside like exercising, over-bundling your baby, or being out in the heat for too long without water.
- Certain medications also put people at greater risk. These include beta blockers, diuretics, and some medicines used to treat depression, psychosis, or ADHD.
Pay attention to the weather. If the heat index is above 90 degree fahrenheit or close to it, be cautious. Avoid taking babies and elderly people out into the heat.
- Be aware of the heat island effect. The heat island effect happens when the rural areas are cooler than the city areas. Those in the crowded city usually have increased temperatures ranging from 1.8 – 5.4 degrees fahrenheit higher than in rural areas. At nighttime, the difference can be up to 22 degrees fahrenheit. It can happen in communities because of air pollution, greenhouse gases, water quality, air conditioning costs and energy consumption.
- Wear light clothing appropriate for the weather.
Stay out of direct sunlight. Take frequent breaks and find shady areas if working outside. Use sunscreen to avoid sunburn. Always wear a hat when out in the sun, especially if you are susceptible to sunstroke.
- One of the most unfortunate causes of sunstroke is sitting in a hot car. Do not sit in a hot car. And do not leave children alone in the car, even for a few minutes.
- If you decide to exercise, avoid the peak sun hours from 11:00am to 3:00 pm.
Drink water to stay hydrated. Watch your urine color, it should stay a light yellowish color.
- Don’t drink caffeine. This will tell the body to become stimulated when what it needs to do is calm down. Though black coffee is 95% water, the effect of caffeine on the body is harmful when the person has signs of sunstroke. The heart will beat harder and faster.
Avoid alcoholic drinks outdoors on hot days. Alcohol can interfere with body temperature by constricting your blood vessels, making it harder for blood to flow to keep you warm.