Beating Heatstroke: The Nursing Edition

Heat stroke can strike at any moment without the right preparation.

Heat stroke can strike at any moment without the right preparation.

Summer brings a range of activities geared toward the outdoors: family picnics, graduation ceremonies, sporting events, and perhaps a wealth of yard work that never seems to end.


Although medical emergencies are probably one of the last things you want to think about during your time off, it’s important to stay keen to heat-related injuries – especially for the very young and old. When temperatures rise and the body can’t keep up, cramps and heat exhaustion can ensue, leading to an actual heatstroke if left unattended.


Between 1999 and 2009, an average of 658 people died of heat-related injuries each year. Today those numbers stay relatively the same, despite a growing awareness of rising temperatures and some of the hottest years on record.


As a nurse, your presence in a crowd can mean a fast and accurate response to what could quickly become a crisis. It may be common knowledge in the medical field, but brushing up on the steps to take to treat heat-related injuries at a moments notice can make the difference.


How does it happen?


As we gear up for summer and the range of injuries that come along with it, preparing for the worst can mean your days stay as best as they can be.

Elderly people and small children should take extra caution with the summer heat.

Elderly people and small children should take extra caution with the summer heat.

In the light of day, the body releases 90% of its heat through a combination of radiation and evaporation. As heat is transferred through the skin to water molecules in the surrounding air, the body’s temperature is balanced. When temperatures are too high and someone is already dehydrated, the risk of heat injuries steadily rises.


Patients who have already experienced heat-injuries in the past are at a higher risk, including a range of other factors like:


  • Infections
  • Recent illnesses or injuries
  • Obesity
  • Ingesting alcohol
  • Exertion
  • Inadequate acclimatization to hot environments


Certain prescription drugs like anticholinergics, antidepressants, antihistamines, beta-blockers, diuretics, and phenothiazine may also present a higher chance of sustaining heat-related injuries.


How to Respond


Older adults and very young children are more prone to heat injuries than others, however heat exhaustion and strokes can happen to anyone.


If you notice that someone is becoming irritable, or exhibiting poor judgement accompanied by headaches, nausea, vomiting, and an intense thirst or dizziness, they are likely experiencing heat exhaustion. From here, it’s best to move the patient to a cooler, shaded environment like an air-conditioned car or building and help them remove as much clothing as is practical. Apply water to the skin in order to encourage the cooling effects of evaporation.


Full-on heat strokes are indeed medical emergencies and can be life-threatening if left unattended. If someone collapses from the heat, try to keep him or her conscious and call 911. Again, move the patient into a cool shaded area and apply water to the skin. Help them to consume water or a diluted sports drink to help their body rehydrate itself and regulate its internal temperature. Unattended heat strokes can also bring a series of other complications such as tachycardia and damage to the internal organs.


Whether it’s at a family function, a public gathering, or out in the garden, heat stroke is easily preventable with the proper hydration and by limiting your exposure to the sun during the hours of 10 am and 2 pm. Wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothing is also a great way to keep cool in the heat.


Although heat-related injuries are never pleasant, staying on your toes – even on your days off – can be the critical factor in helping a patient avoid further health complications.


Author: Connor Smith

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