Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke
by Scott Legal
formally published at: http://www.denniscoins.com/geocaching/geoarticle.asp?m=15

By now most of you have heard of John Andrew Doyle. In case you haven’t heard of him, he was a 22 year old hiker who tragically died of heat stroke while hiking in the Boney Mountain area. This tragedy repeats itself far too often. Each time we head off on one of these treks we are exposed to the same peril that ultimately led to John Andrew Doyle’s death. For most of us, the memory of John Andrew Doyle will fade, since we didn’t actually know him. But the lesson his passing teaches is one that should not fade and should constantly be reinforced, so that none of us wind up being a statistic as well.

Unfortunately, Doyle and his friends made mistakes on Saturday September 20 that led to his death. While the information presented in the news does not draw a lot of conclusions, there are some facts that are known that point to some mistakes that caused the death. The most obvious mistake is that he didn’t have enough water in his body. But what else? The newspaper article on the tragic hike stated that at 2:30 PM Doyle “soaked in the view” from the mountain top vista that they had hiked to. I am making an assumption that the mountaintop he was on was near the Tri Peaks area, since there is a Sierra Club Peak Register near there and that is what was described in the beginning of the article. From any direction, it is at least a four mile, strenuous hike to this spot with a substantial elevation gain if the hike is begun from Rancho Sierra Vista. If he was at this spot at 2:30 PM then he started his hike at a time when the hottest part of the day was approaching. The temperature hit 88 degrees in Thousand Oaks that day. So the hike was not well planned from a heat avoidance perspective. I will be the first to admit that I do tend to hike when it is too hot out. But I do limit the distance of such hikes.

So what exactly is heat stroke and how do we prevent it? According to the Center for Disease Control, “heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.” Some more specific symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

If someone is suffering from these symptoms these are steps that need to be taken to bring the condition under control:

  • Get the victim to a shady area.
  • Cool the victim rapidly using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature, and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

The article on Doyle’s death quoted Dr. Bob Girondola, a professor of exercise science at USC, as saying that “people can lose up to 2% of their body weight in water before even knowing they’re dehydrated.” That’s a couple pounds for every hundred pounds of body weight. So it should come as no surprise that a person must drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration. But there is a lot more that can and should be done to prevent heat stroke. These are steps that the CDC recommends for preventing heat stroke:

  •  Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
  • Don’t drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar-these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
  • Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library-even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
  •  Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.

Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on:

  • Infants and young children
  • People aged 65 or older
  • People who have a mental illness
  • Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

The last thing you should consider is going out in the heat and exerting yourself. But if you’re like me, sometimes temptation gets the better of you. So here are step that you should take if you must be out in the heat:

  • Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
  • Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Remember the warning in the first “tip” (above), too.
  • Try to rest often in shady areas.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).

It goes without saying that we will probably hear of other tragedies like the John Andrew Doyle tragedy. There is much we can do to prevent becoming one of those statistics. Unfortunately, there will be those who go out at the wrong time, in the wrong weather, or are not properly prepared to meet the challenges ahead of them. So as we saw from Ken & Jill and the Borgt’s the day after Doyle’s death, if you can, bring extra water with you to help out someone in need. You may save a life.