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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 11 (February 1, 1936)

Sun Stroke And Heat Stroke

Sun Stroke And Heat Stroke.

With the advent of February, which is usually the hottest month of our year, a few remarks regarding the general effect of the sun's rays and heat, may not be out of place.

You all are aware of the beneficial effect of sunshine and warmth, but as some wiseacre once remarked, “Too much of anything is more than enough,” and it is in connection with the “too much” aspect that our remarks will deal. In short, we are going to say something about Sun Stroke And Heat Stroke.

Now, although these two conditions are to all intents and purposes much the same in effect, we mention them both as so many people think that danger lurks only in exposure to the direct rays of the sun, but this is in error, as just as much danger threatens in undue exposure to heat, even though the sun be quite hidden by clouds, especially if the atmosphere be humid. In using the word “humid,” we mean that the air is already well laden with moisture, and thus unable to absorb further moisture, thus retarding loss of heat which would otherwise evaporate from the overheated body.

Many of you have already acquired the much coveted sun-tan, and in so doing may think you are immune from sun or heat stroke, but such is not the case, your immunity being only in so far as sunburn is concerned.

Cases of sun and heat strokes occur amongst those unduly exposed to the sun or its heat during the hot season. Remember that even in the shade on a very hot day, one can readily succumb to heat stroke. The effect of sun or heat exposure is cumulative, and the greatest danger lies after the succession of two or three hot days. The symptoms may not develop until the evening or following morning, when the atmospheric temperature may have fallen considerably, the cumulative effect of the exposure having gradually overcome the body resistance.

In tropical climates, these dangers are well known and avoided as far as possible. In such countries, work is done, as far as possible, during the early and late hours of the day, thus avoiding the maximum heat of middle day. Exertion of any kind during the heat, only accentuates the danger. Another factor which accentuates the danger, is stagnation of air, hence the use of fans and punkahs in the houses in tropical climates.

Now we ask ourselves what actually happens to the body in a case of sun or heat stroke?

First, let us point out that while people who are used to moderate climates are much more prone to attacks than are the coloured races who live in, and are accustomed to, tropical temperature.

The effect of high atmospheric temperature on the brain and nervous system is to cause a general swelling of the brain and its membranes, thus decreasing functional activity. The effect is the same upon other organs, such as the liver and kidneys, impairing their functions and causing toxic substances to be retained within the body. The retention of these substances causes a form of poisoning of the system which gives rise to symptoms varying in severity according to the degree of such poisoning. The symptoms commence with a feeling of weakness, nausea, giddiness and faintness, and inability to walk. The body temperature rises and remains so usually for two or three days. The pulse becomes rapid and weak, and heart symptoms usually occur.

If early treatment is adopted, the symptoms quickly improve, but if not, conditions of a much more serious nature supervene, such as unconsciousness and convulsions, with the body temperature mounting with the progress of the malady.

With regard to treatment, the patient must be moved to cool shady surroundings, providing for free circulation of air around the body. Loosen clothing and spray the face and chest with ice-cooled water, and if available, apply ice to the back of the neck and to the head. In all cases seek skilled assistance as soon as possible.

Of course, prevention is better than cure, so be reasonable in regulating exposure and exertion during high atmospheric temperatures, keep the head and back of the neck well protected, and keep the house as cool, and as well ventilated as possible.

Remember, the sun may be curative or killing.