Enthusiastically awaited by some, dreaded by others, summer is definitely a season to be prepared for! During these hot, sunny days, heatstroke - which the scientific community refers to as "hyperthermia" - is not uncommon and can have serious consequences. Although heatstroke is a threat mainly to children, the elderly and the frail, it is still possible to prevent it and react when it does occur.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke literally causes the body to overheat: body temperature rises and the body is unable to function properly. This can result in :
- prolonged exposure to the sun (sunstroke)
- exposure to ambient heat (heat wave, industrial environment, fire...), known as "classic" heat stroke
- intense exertion with poor heat evacuation (due to an excessively hot, humid environment or over-insulating clothing): this is known as "exercise" or "exertion" heatstroke.
To fully understand how heatstroke occurs, it's important to grasp the concept of "thermoregulation": the physiological mechanism that enables the human body to maintain a constant temperature and regulate itself, whatever the outside temperature. When the environment becomes hostile, particularly during a heatwave, the body is unable to perspire properly, making thermoregulation difficult or impossible.
What are the symptoms of heatstroke?
Firstly, heatstroke can be identified by taking a body temperature. So you need to start taking action as soon as the thermometer reads between 38 and 40°C.
Heatstroke can also be detected by certain clinical signs: hot, red skin, staggering gait, dizziness, elevated heart rate, muscle weakness, headaches, nausea, blurred vision, convulsions, loss of consciousness... Symptoms can vary in severity, and it is essential to call for medical assistance. So it's vital to adopt the right precautions before help arrives, when it comes to treating heatstroke that has already occurred.
Heat stroke: steps to take
Moisturize the person
Heat stroke is synonymous with dehydration. Rehydration is therefore a key factor in treating a person suffering from heatstroke. Note also that a person's perception of thirst may be altered, so it's important to get them to drink even if they say they're not thirsty. Rehydration solutions (sold in sachets) are also available from pharmacies, and are designed to compensate for mineral and water losses.
Cooling the body
Undressing and cooling the person is crucial to ensure proper heat dissipation. To speed up this process, you can apply bottles of water, towels or cold compresses straight from the fridge. Cooling is a continuous process: be sure to change the object used to cool the person as soon as it loses its freshness. It is also advisable not to apply ice directly to the skin, to avoid thermal shock.
Taking the temperature
Don't forget to take the heat stroke victim's temperature. It should drop steadily. If, after 30 minutes of cooling, the body temperature is still around 38.8 degrees, call the emergency services (SAMU or fire department). Maintaining an internal temperature at this level for more than two hours can pose a real danger to organs, especially the brain.
The right position
To improve the flow of blood to the brain, don't hesitate to lift the person's legs, in particular by elevating them on a cushion. If the person is unconscious, it is advisable to place him/her in the lateral safety position. If not, throw the head back and pull the chin to ensure that the airway is not obstructed.
Prevention is better than cure: how to avoid heatstroke?
During a heat wave or hot day, your body loses water faster than usual. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink! It's essential to drink throughout the day (recommended daily amount of water: 1.5 l/day), especially if you're outdoors or physically active, even if you don't feel thirsty. And don't forget to give water to children and other frail people who need extra attention.
Refresh your face and body on a regular basis: water misting, wet towels, cool showers... It's up to you to select the option that suits you best, depending on the context.
If you can, avoid exposure to the sun or enclosed spaces such as cars. And remember to wear a head covering and/or use a parasol on sunny days .
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