Heat Stroke

It’s hot outside, REALLY hot.  The air burns your lungs as you breathe and the sweat is dripping off your brow in a constant stream.  You run your fingers through your hair and it burns to the touch.  You feel parched even though you just guzzled a bottle of water and even though you’re walking slowly down the road, you’re heart is racing so fast that you can see your pulse in your eyes.  Suddenly, you realize that you’ve stopped sweating and you’re dizzy, you lean over and vomit the little bit of lunch you had onto the ground at your feet.

This is just the beginning of heat stroke and if it were to progress any further, you could very likely die.  Heat related illness is a very treatable illness, yet an average of around 300 people die from it every year.  In a post-apocalyptic environment, your chances of surviving heat stroke are lessened a great deal.  So the better you understand it, the better prepared you are to prevent and treat it.

Symptoms

Heat stroke, the most severe stage of heat illness, occurs when body core temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit and your body’s normal heat regulation systems are no longer able to dissipate internal heat.  There are a number of symptoms to look for:

  • Rapid heartbeat even when not exerting
  • Light-headedness
  • Rapid or shallow breathing even when not exerting
  • Nausea
  • Lack of Sweat where sweating had occured before
  • Abnormal irritability or confusion
  • Headache
  • Fainting

If you happen to faint from heat exhaustion and you’re by yourself, you’re pretty much done for unless you get REALLY lucky.

Treatment

If you suspect that you are suffering from heat stroke, you need to immediatly cease any physical exertion and find a shady (prefereably cool) spot to sit.  Take off as much of your clothes as you can to promote evaporation on your skin and splash some water on your skin.  If you have a way of fanning yourself without exerting yourself, do it.  Sip (and I emphasize this) cool water.  If you drink too much too quickly or if the water is too cold, you’ll get stomach cramps and probably vomit.  Avoid anything with sugar or caffeine in it, these are diuretics and will cause you to dehydrate more.

You can take more drastic measures to cool yourself off.  If you are near a water source, jump in and soak in the water (preferably in the shade) until you cool off.  Avoid water that is too cold because this can cause vasoconstriction which will not allow for efficient heat transfer.  If you decide to soak in water, remember that your head dissipates heat much faster than the rest of your body, so stick your head under the water.

If you are sick enough that drinking water, no matter how slowly, causes you to feel sick to your stomach, it may be necessary to feed yourself water intravenously.  This is not difficult to do, but I will not go into it in this article.

Prevention

Urine Color Chart
Urine Color Chart

The most important thing you can do to prevent heat stroke is to drink fluids.  Stay hydrated!  Don’t gauge your hydration on thirst, especially in extreme heat.  By the time you’re thirsty, it’s already too late.  A better judge of hydration is the color of your urine.  On the included chart, you can see what color your urine should be and drink accordingly.  You should avoid drinking anything with a lot of sugar, caffeine, or alcohol as these will cause you to get dehydrated much faster.  You should be drinking 16-32 ounces of water an hour in extreme heat or when physically active.  Almost as important as hydration is salt intake.  If you drink too much water without replenishing salt and minerals this will lead to a condition called hyponatremia which can cause sudden heart failure and death.

When eating, avoid heavy meals and hot foods.  Particularly during the mid-day hours.  These types of foods tend to raise your core temperature and thus raise your risk of heat stroke.

Avoid being in the sun, especially during mid-day since this is when it will be hottest out.  If you have to be outside in the sun, limit your exposure time and level of exertion.  Take lots of breaks and be aware of how you feel.  You should try to wear lighweight clothing that is lighter in color, light colors reflect sunlight and the accompanying radiant heat and lightweight materials like cotton will draw sweat away from your skin and allow for quicker evaporation (and thus quicker cooling).

Avoid enclosed spaces (like a car) if at all possible.  Inside a building (assuming there is no air conditioning) should be okay, but just be wary of buildings that are warm inside.

Protect your head!  Wear a hat that will block sunlight from all sides.  There are hats out there that have vents in them.  Those vents allow for greater air flow, which will keep your head much cooler than a hat without them.

If at anytime you start to feel hot, take a break, dunk your head in some water, sit down and drink some water, etc.  Don’t feel like you ever need to power through it.

Further Reading



How to Gather Water

Let’s face it.  You won’t survive a week if you don’t have any water to drink, and you won’t last much longer on contaminated water.  So not only is it important to get water, but clean water.  You should be drinking roughly 2% of your body weight (generally around 1.5 liters) in water every day.  If you are in a situation where you are sweating more than normal you should be drinking that every hour.

The obvious choice for clean water, is bottled water.  As a society we have become obsessed with drinking bottled water, and as much as you may disagree with that it will certainly benefit you during the apocalypse.  So look at a supermarket, convenience store, or any other store or restaurant really and you’re bound to find bottled water.

As with everything else, bottled water is not sustainable.  Eventually, it’ll run out and you’ll have to find another way to get water.  There are many things in nature that naturally hold clean water.  For instance, bamboo is hollow in the center so it catches rain water and hold it for a long time.  You just need to punch a hole in the the bamboo to access the clean, clear water.

However, you may not be lucky enough to be anywhere near any of these types of plants.  You’ll need to manufacture your own gathering system.  The easiest of these is probably a dew trap.  To create a dew trap, dig a hole in the ground 2 feet deep, lay some vegetation like palm fronds or grass on the bottom of the hole, lay rocks on top of that, and then more vegetation on top of the rocks.  Leave this apparatus overnight and first thing in the morning, the rocks with be covered in dew.

You can also build a rain catcher.  You need a sheet of waterproof material, like a tarp or (preferably) a poncho.  Make a hole in the center and hang it outside.  Put a bucket or other receptacle under the hole and when it rains you will have a bucket full of water.  Don’t drink this water straight though.  This water will likely be clean, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you’re in a snowy region, you are literally surrounded  by water.  Most survival experts will caution you against eating snow because it lowers your core temperature and, if the snow is cold enough, blister your mouth and cause ulcers.  In my opinion, if you’re thirsty, you’re thirsty, just eat a little bit at a time.

If you don’t trust yourself to not gobble down the fluffy white stuff, you can make a Finnish Marshmallow, which is simply a snowball on a stick set over a cup near a fire.  It will melt fairly quickly and you’ll have a nice cool glass of water.

The same principle can be applied while you’re on the move.  Fill a canteen or bottle with snow and keep it inside your jacket to let your body heat melt the snow.

The Last Resort

You just drank the last of your water and none of the above applies to you right now.  What can you do for water?  Some really gross things, that’s what!  These options are last ditch efforts, not only because they go against our fundamental sense of decency, but because they are potentially harmful to you.

First of all, you can drink your own urine as long as its fresh and you are relatively hydrated to begin with.  Essentially, if you’re still peeing clear, you’re okay to drink your pee.

Elephant dung is a combination of both undigested and digested (yuck) vegetation.  This makes it a spongy consistency that contains water.  It can have harmful bacteria in it (after all it IS feces) but if you need water it will help, just don’t drink a large quantity of it.