Heat stroke, sunstroke: How do I protect myself in extreme heat?

Temperatures above 30 degrees, blue sky, not a breath of air – what sounds like the best bathing weather and the perfect summer day on the one hand is potentially a massive strain on our body on the other. Some people are particularly affected by heat. And even if a wind blows, that doesn’t change much of the stress that the organism can feel. On the contrary: the breeze fools us into cooling off while the sun is beating down.

And although you apply lotion well or are in the shade, you can – depending on your skin type – get sunburned. It hurts and can cause serious skin damage. However, heat stroke and sunstroke are acutely worse. Neither should be taken lightly, but act quickly.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke can be life-threatening because the body heats up quickly (to around 40 degrees) and produces little or no sweat. Therefore, there is no endogenous cooling, which extremely overstrains the organism.

The dangerous thing is that the symptoms can only appear after you are at home, and therefore do not associate your own discomfort with sunbathing. (Small) children, the elderly, the chronically ill and anyone who is not used to the heat are particularly at risk.

“Elderly people and children in particular have a lesser sense of thirst, which can quickly become a problem for them, especially at high temperatures,” explains internist Dr. Anne Fleck. “Therefore, active attention must be paid to drinking regularly and sufficiently.”

Heat stroke is comparatively rare, sunstroke (see below) is more common. If you suspect you have heat stroke, you should call 911 so you can get help quickly. “Until then, you should stay in a cool, dark place and keep your upper body elevated,” advises the doctor. “And drink lukewarm water or unsweetened tea to make up for lost fluids. Please don’t drink anything cold, because the body has to warm it up, which costs a lot of energy.”

How do I recognize and avoid heat stroke?

In addition to the suddenly occurring high temperature, the symptoms of heat stroke are neck pain through to stiffness, nausea or vomiting, headaches, very reddened and sometimes painful skin. Depending on the severity of the heat stroke, dizziness and disturbances of consciousness can also occur, but also organ failure.

The following therefore applies: Avoid staying in the blazing sun for too long. Especially when it is generally very hot, you should only stay in the shade. Don’t let the wind on the water tempt you into lying in the sun anyway. Although the skin feels chilled, the sun’s rays still hit you.

What is sunstroke?

Sunstroke is the body’s reaction when the head and neck in particular have received too much heat. The reactions are therefore mainly felt in the head, whereas heat stroke (see above) tends to affect the whole body. Another difference is that the body’s skin tends to feel cool.

“Mostly affected are people who work outdoors, such as roofers or farmers, but those who now do outdoor sports should drink a lot and pay attention to headgear with neck protection,” advises doctor Dr. Anne Fleck.

How do I recognize and avoid sunstroke?

A red head and neck as well as neck stiffness, headache, nausea or vomiting are typical of sunstroke. Those affected often report severe exhaustion and discomfort.

If you think you may have sunstroke, you should rest in bed, keep your upper body slightly elevated, and drink plenty of fluids. “If there are increasing changes in consciousness, the emergency service should be contacted immediately,” advises Fleck. “And as far as your child is concerned, you shouldn’t leave them unattended. Calm him down, put a cool cloth on his forehead and on the back of his neck.”

Insider tip from the doctor: apply natural yoghurt or quark to the affected skin. This soothes the skin and also helps with sunburn. “After you have applied quark or yoghurt, wrap the area with a cotton cloth or cling film so that it can absorb well,” says the doctor. “In this way you support the healing process, and both quark and yoghurt have a pleasantly cooling effect.”

To avoid sunstroke, you should drink a lot: “Anyone who drinks enough before going outdoors, about 30 to 40 milliliters of water per kilogram of body weight, has a good basis so that the body is neither dehydrated nor overheated,” says the doctor. “Furthermore, head and neck coverage is absolutely essential. Also make sure you wear airy and light-colored clothing. Dark colors are more likely to absorb heat, while light colors don’t store it.”

Doctor advises: You are doing well despite the heat

Breathable clothing, drinking a lot, avoiding the blazing sun, especially at midday, and not doing physical exertion are the basic ingredients for keeping a cool head – in the truest sense of the word – despite the great heat.

“But you can also control your sensitivity with your diet and thus significantly improve the body’s heat tolerance and enjoy the summer in a relaxed manner,” says internist Fleck. “Food has its own temperature behavior inside the body, i.e. after consumption. Some have a cooling effect, others warming.”

Cooling foods include melons, apples, pears, pineapples, strawberries, buttermilk, cucumbers, salads, green tea and cold hibiscus tea. The warming foods include, for example, fennel, ginger, cocoa and coffee, as well as oats, cherries, leeks, ham, walnuts, cinnamon, onions – and alcohol, because it dilates the blood vessels.

When it is very hot outside and the apartments heat up, it is difficult to fall asleep in the evening and there is no rest at night. This is bad because it stresses our body. dr Anne Fleck recommends: “Darken your windows as much as possible, even during the day. If you have a freezer, put your bedclothes in there or put ice packs on your pillow for a while before you go to bed. You should also wash your face with cold water. Because this refreshment on the head also ensures that we sleep better in winter.”

An old sleeping rule is: cool head, warm feet. “These are good starting conditions for a restful sleep,” says Dr. Anne Fleck. “Also, in the summer, be careful not to use heavy blankets that can trap heat. It is better to use a cotton or linen sheet. This allows an exchange of air to take place.”

The doctor’s conclusion: “Overall, however, we should stay cool because the warmer to hotter temperatures only last a few days. If you take good precautions, you should enjoy a relaxing summer weekend.”

The expert has also written a book with tips: Dr. Anne Fleck, “Healthy Summer Kitchen – Fast, Easy, Delicious – With Fresh Recipes Healthy Through the Hot Days”, Becker Joest Volk Verlag, 192 pages, approx. 30 euros.

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