As summer warms up and progresses, so does the possibility of experiencing heatstroke.  But there are things you can do to help prevent heatstroke or even treat it, should it occur.  East Asian Medicine (EAM) offers some tried and true remedies that have been around for centuries and can keep you healthy during the summer months.  Let’s jump in.

Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. This most serious form of heat injury, heatstroke, can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher.  Heatstroke generally requires emergency treatment.  Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death.

The symptoms of heatstroke may include excessive thirst, nausea, fainting, weakness, fatigue, muscle aches or cramping, heavy sweating, dizziness, headache, loss of appetite, vomiting, convulsions or seizures, tachycardia and fever.  While anyone is at risk of developing heatstroke, there are several factors that increase this possibility, including age (the very young and the elderly, in particular), exertion in hot weather, sudden exposure to excessive heat and humidity, certain medications (diuretics, vasoconstrictors, beta blockers, stimulants and psychotropics) and some chronic health conditions like asthma, COPD, hypertension or lung disease.

In terms of East Asian Medicine, heat warms and dries the fluids of your body. This leads to yin deficiency. Usually yin deficiency creeps up on you as you age, after an inflammatory disease or high fever or even if you mentally overwork for too long.  Summer heat generally affects the stomach / large intestine, heart / pericardium and bodily fluids.  The stomach, large intestine, heart and pericardium are all organs in EAM with an affinity for heat and fire, which helps explain why they are more sensitive this time of year.

Acupuncture is one facet of EAM that can be helpful during a heat stroke episode.  This does mean that an acupuncturist would need to be nearby and quickly reachable. But even if that isn’t the case, treatments after a heatstroke episode can be helpful.  Along with regulating the body temperature, acupuncture can decrease any inflammation that may have occurred during the heatstroke episode.  Acupuncture treatments can also help with the digestive issues that frequently accompany heatstroke.

There are acupuncture points that can be utilized during an episode of heatstroke that may be helpful.  Just applying pressure to these points may help relieve some of the symptoms of heatstroke.

  • Heart 8 – This point is located on the palm of the hand between the pinky and ring finger.  It can be located when making a fist, as it will be found where the pinky finger touches the palm of the hand.  Heart 8 can be used to decrease thirst and restlessness, while also helping with insomnia.
  • Large Intestine 11 – This point can be found bilaterally at the outer end of the elbow crease that is created when the arm is flexed.  Large intestine 11 clears heat, drops a fever and decreases any inflammation that may be occurring due to excess heat in the body.
  • Pericardium 3 – Located bilaterally on the inner elbow next to the large tendon, this point is great for sun stroke or anxiety that often accompanies heatstroke.

Heat is a pathogen that’s pretty easy to understand, but damp, which frequently accompanies heat, especially during an episode of heatstroke, is a bit more obscure and can cause a wide range of symptoms depending on where it’s located.  In the Midwest, we can see damp in the summer directly as humidity.  It makes us lethargic, move a bit slower, our appetite decreases, we can either get loose or sticky stools and might feel a bit ‘muggy’ because on some days our sweat doesn’t evaporate and just hangs out.

One of the best recommendations from EAM to help prevent and combat heatstroke is food.  Foods generally recommended during the warmer summer months help clear heat, as well as drain damp.  There are specific foods we can use to help clear Summer Heat and be more comfortable even on the warmest of days.  Some examples of foods to ingest during the summer months include watermelon, cucumbers, peppermint, mung beans, black sesame seeds, celery, lemons, apples, cantaloupe, summer squash, chrysanthemum tea (room temp) and coconut water.

Combining clinical treatments and traditional therapies can help you cool off from heatstroke.  Also, remember that acupressure only provides mild relief of the condition’s symptoms.  And most importantly, trust your gut.  If you need emergency care, get it!!  Don’t hesitate.  Lastly, the best way to deal with heatstroke is to do your best to prevent it.  So eat those cooling, nourishing foods, mind your surroundings and utilize East Asian Medicine to keep your body balanced.

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