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.
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
- Rapid or shallow breathing even when not exerting
- Lack of Sweat where sweating had occured before
- Abnormal irritability or confusion
If you happen to faint from heat exhaustion and you’re by yourself, you’re pretty much done for unless you get REALLY lucky.
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.
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.