In previous editions we have discussed aches, pains and inconveniences we encounter in our great hobby of fishing, but today the subject will deal with a serious and potentially deadly threat that exists on the water. Recognizing and dealing with heat stroke. Heat stroke is a potentially fatal condition that can occur, but with some prevention, early detection and prompt treatment the serious short and long term effects can be avoided or managed on the water.
Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature rises, the generally accepted value is above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a medical emergency, and more commonly occurs in older people or those with underlying health problems, but young and healthy are not exempt from it by any means. Heat stroke occurs when heat load is greater than heat dissipation (i.e. more heat in and less out). Heat load obviously occurs when in a hot environment, and dissipation is through bodily functions like sweating/evaporation and vasodilatation. It is important to know that evaporation is ineffective when relative humidity exceeds 75%, so your cooling mechanism won’t work as well if it’s humid. Potential problems that occur are arrhythmia (irregular heart rate), decrease in blood pressure, seizures, and rhabdomyolosis (a condition with muscle injury, volume depletion and kidney injury that can require dialysis and lead to death). Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are less severe precursors to heat stroke that can serve as warnings of more serious impending problems. If you are fishing on a hot, humid summer day the threat is real and measures must be taken to prevent and treat over-heating.
Signs of problems are fairly non-specific (and often more so in elderly) and include confusion, hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not real i.e. the classic mirage in the desert), difficulty walking or balancing, slurred speech, agitation, flushing, nausea, dizziness, poor coordination, headache, cramps and weakness. If you are able to recognize them also increased respiratory rate and heart rate are also signs of problems occurring. If you or your partner notices any of the above take action immediately to avoid bigger problems.
If you notice any of the above ask your partner if s/he is ok and take note of speech, appearance, and behavior. If s/he is not sweating or appears flushed, veins are protruding or can’t speak well then some of the following may help avoid disaster. Obviously, the patient needs to COOL DOWN!!! Drinking cold fluids helps, but spraying cold water on the skin and head will aid in evaporation (if not too humid). Find a place in the shade, preferably with some wind and push cold fluids that do not contain caffeine or alcohol. Ice packs or cold compresses on the neck, armpit, wrist and groin can help lower core body temperature. These areas work because there are major arteries near the skin so the cold pack can cool the blood as it flows. Having the affected person jump in the water then cruise (in the shade would be better) will allow the air to cool the water and skin. Remove all extra layers of clothes, especially hats and socks/shoes. Continue to push fluids, but monitor for nausea or vomiting as the stomach may contract some leading to vomiting, so small sips of cold water or electrolytes/sports drinks frequently are the best way to recover. If the condition does not improve quickly it’s time to head in and seek medical help at an emergency room.
So now that you know what the signs and treatment are, it is time to prevent it. The best prevention is preparation. Keep hydrated around tourney or fun fishing days, drink lots of water and replenish electrolytes lost in sweat with low sugar content sports drinks. A great one is pedialyte which is used for kids, has a pleasant taste and is lower in sugar than many others. Also most companies offer a lower calorie option which avoids high sugar loads and can help. I could give specifics, but until one of the companies sponsors me I will let you decide for yourself (LOL). Being hydrated also means limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption during and around hot days on the water. Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics that will deplete total body water content. Many of us enjoy a cold one the nights before as we dream of big bags and trophies. Just be sure to mix in some water. If you are thirsty, you are behind the 8-ball so get hydrated. Also wear loose fitting clothes and don’t layer (opposite of staying warm). Most companies now offer microfiber shirts that are lighter and wick sweat away which are great options. Also remember lots of heat escapes from the head so take off your hat if you feel warm, or use a visor or meshed back hat. Same goes for footwear – skip the socks and wear sandals or shoes that “breathe” to allow heat to escape. Most of all, don’t be a hero, if you notice problems take care of them while minor to avoid a bad end to the day!