Research: A killer plays under the sun

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The shining sun is a powerful temptress, beckoning young and old to linger longer outside. Distractions of work and play make forgetting about hydration too easy, so as temperatures climb again, please keep in mind that even strong bodies can overheat.

Heatstroke (a.k.a. sun stroke) and its cousin, heat exhaustion, can result from prolonged exposure to (“non-exertional” heatstroke), or physical activity in (exertional heatstroke), high temperatures. Especially vulnerable are children, the aged or ill, and anyone working or playing outside for extended periods.

It’s important to recognize signs and act quickly; untreated heatstroke can quickly damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. Causes of heatstroke include:

Wearing too much clothing. It prevents sweat from evaporating easily and cooling the body. That needn’t mean a sunburn; protect skin from sun damage with thin, breathable fabrics.

Drinking alcohol. It affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Becoming dehydrated. The body needs enough water to replenish fluids lost through sweat.

Anyone can develop heatstroke, but age matters. In very young and older bodies, the central nervous system is more vulnerable to temperature changes. Exertion also increases risk; sports and military training are common in summer heatstroke. Those without a/c (fans feel good, but are less effective) or taking certain medications, such as vasoconstrictors, betablockers, diuretics, and antidepressants, also face greater risks. So do those who are obese or sedentary.

Symptoms of heat-related illness include:

1. Internal body temperature of 103 degrees or higher

2. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, delirium, seizures, or fainting

3. Skin flushed or red, hot/dry to the touch (non-exertional) or clammy (exertional)

4. Nausea/vomiting

5. Too-fast or slow pulse

6. Headache

If heat stroke is suspected, seek immediate medical help. Meanwhile move the overheated person indoors, remove excess clothing, and cool with whatever means available — a tub of water, a cool shower, spray with a garden hose, sponge with cool water, a fan, cold packs, wet towels on the head, neck, armpits and groin.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network dreaming of October. Contact her at

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