Avoiding heat stroke in summer

Children can be affected by heat stroke Credit: Shutterstock: Zdan Ivan

According to a report by the National Statistics Institute, around 350 people died in Spain from heat stroke and dehydration during the summer of 2022.

Even more alarming, the total number of heat-attributable deaths was more than 11,000, second only to Italy with just over 18,000. With Europe experiencing the greatest warming, up to 1 degree more than the global average, it is more important than ever to take sensible precautions when the temperatures start to soar.

A separate study investigating the main causes of heat stroke concluded that more than half of those affected could attribute their illness to excessive exposure to heat. However, this was not just due to exposure to hot weather but also from working in environments with hot temperatures.

In addition, 41 per cent cited high humidity, 7 per cent cited dehydration, and 3 per cent cited the main cause as lack of shade.

Heat stroke occurs when the body’s cooling mechanism of sweating stops functioning and is considered the most serious heat-related illness. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, often as high as 40 degrees, within 10 to 15 minutes.

Heat Stroke can affect anyone, although the elderly, infants, persons working outdoors, those with obesity, circulation issues, and mental health conditions are especially susceptible.

Can heat stroke be prevented?

The good news is that heat stroke is preventable with just a few sensible precautions. The first and most important is to drink plenty of fluids and avoid dehydration. This is crucial to enabling the body to sweat and maintain a normal temperature.

Also, choose loose-fitting clothing so that the body has room to breathe and cool down properly.

Sunburn can seriously impact the body’s ability to cool, so be sure to use a suitably high-factor sunscreen.  This needs to be applied generously and frequently, particularly if swimming or sweating. Even so, avoid spending too much time in the heat, especially during the hottest part of the day.

Check any medications to ascertain if they are likely to affect the body’s ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat.  If so, take greater precautions to stay cool and drink extra fluids to compensate.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

Aside from the obvious one of a high body temperature, there are several tell-tale signs of heat stroke.

Heat stroke affects the mental state, and confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures, and even coma can all result from it.  Heat stroke may also result in a throbbing headache, racing heart and rapid breathing, which may lead to nausea or vomiting.

The skin, too, will show symptoms, including feeling hot and dry to the touch and looking more flushed as the body temperature increases.

If heat stroke is suspected, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible. In the meantime, immediate action needs to be taken to bring the temperature down, including finding shade, removing excess clothing and using cool water to cool the body down physically.

This could be a cool shower, sponging with cool water, spraying with a garden hose or simply placing ice packs on the head, palms and soles of feet, whatever is available.

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Written by

Donna Williams

Marketer, copywriter, storyteller and President of Samaritans in Spain. They say variety is the spice of life and I am definitely loving life!