Heatstroke (aka; sunstroke) can be defined as a body temperature of greater than 40.6 °C(105.1 °F) resulting from environmental heat exposure accompanied by the absence of thermo regulation of heat by the brain. Another contributing factor to heatstroke can be dehydration. Heatstroke is a form of hyperthermia where the body temperature increases dramatically. It is considered a medical emergency and can be fatal if it is not promptly and properly treated. Infants and small children rank highly among those vulnerable to having a heatstroke. Heatstroke is known to be the leading cause of non-crash vehicle related deaths in children.
Typically, the body generates heat through its metabolism and is able to rid itself of heat through heat radiating through the skin, as well as, cooling off through the evaporation of sweat. However, in an extremely hot environment, high humidity environment, coupled with vigorous exercising under the sun, the body may not be able to rid itself of the heat fast enough and the body temperature climbs. It can climb as high as 106 degrees or higher.
Some of the causes of heatstroke can be link to substances that prevents cooling and causes dehydration. Substances such as alcohol, caffeine, medications and stimulants, as well as, age-related physical changes can make a person vulnerable to heatstroke. Those child deaths from heatstroke related to hot cars are the results of parents / caregivers forgetting that the child is in the car, parents intentionally leaving the child in a car without understanding how hot a car can get, and with children climbing into a car to play.
- Fast heartbeat
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- blood pressure may be elevated or lowered
- absence of sweating
- Irritability, confusion or unconsciousness
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Keep cars locked to prevent children from entering them while playing.
- Place something in the backseat with the child that you will need when you reach your final destination, like a purse or briefcase or your cell phone.
- Dress your child in light, loose fitting clothes which allows perspiration to evaporate and cool the body. Wear hats with vents that allow perspiration to cool the head.
- Avoid strenuous activity during daylight hours in hot weather.
- Use air conditioning and rest regularly.
- Drink plenty of fluid to replace fluid lost from sweating but avoid drinks containing caffeine and alcohol.
- Dress your child in light colored / cloth clothing (plastic clothing does not facilitate heat loss through the evaporation process).
- Monitor the color of your child’s urine. Urine becomes dark colored when your child is dehydrated. Try to maintain light colored urine for this is a sign that your child is hydrated adequately.
- If you see a child left alone in a car, call 911.
It is imperative that the body temperature is lowered immediately. Always call 911, first.
- The child should be moved to a cool area and clothing removed to facilitate heat loss.
- You can apply ice packs to the child’s armpits, groin, neck and back.
- Place your child under a fan or a dehumidified air conditioner.
- Immersing your child in a cool water bath can be very helpful.
- Some experts say cold water / ice water immersion is counterproductive, because it causes the blood vessels to constrict and thus prevents heat from escaping, others consider it the gold standard for life-threatening heatstroke.
- If a bath tub is not available, applying damp clothes to the body should be employed. You can also cool your child off with a water spray.