By Kelly Sargent
Extreme heat kills more people in the United States than any other weather hazard, and the risk of longer and more frequent heat waves is only expected to increase as climate change worsens. The heat in Texas is so extreme that it broke all-time high temperature records, and on June 20 a postal worker died while working his route in a Dallas neighborhood.
But don’t think heat illness and death only occur in the South. From 2011 to 2021, the last data available, 426 Iowans were hospitalized with heat illnesses, and in that same 10-year period, nationwide, 436 people died from work-related exposure to environmental heat
Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. This most serious form of heat injury is heatstroke which can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (or higher.
It’s vital to recognize the signs of heatstroke because you can be stricken without realizing you’re in danger. When my husband Paul was 10 years old, he was riding his bike with a friend on a hot summer day , when suddenly he was down on the ground paralyzed from heat stroke. Fortunately his friend Jay quickly rode his bike to summon help. Jay’s mother drove to where Paul was, loaded him in the back of the car, drove him to their house and submerged him in cool water to lower his body temperature.
Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death.
Heatstroke signs and symptoms include:
High body temperature
A core body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher, obtained with a rectal thermometer, is the main sign of heatstroke.
Altered mental state or behavior
Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
Alteration in sweating
In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel dry or slightly moist.
Nausea and vomiting
You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
Your head may throb.
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