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Dancing is a strenuous physical activity and when you dance your body temperature rises. Places where lots of people are dancing get very hot. Exposure to the sun can increase temperatures still more, and alcohol and other drugs dehydrate the body or further increase body temps. Meanwhile you're sweating a lot. All this leads to the biggest risks from dancing all day or night at a party: Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke.
What is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke is a serious case of overheating. Your body starts to shut down, your brain swells, you start bleeding. It's pretty bad and has been fatal at electronic music parties all too frequently. Even milder cases of heat exhaustion and dehydration can be painful or damaging to our bodies. The stress from heat compounds chances of catching infections or a slower recovery after all night parties.
Sounds shitty! What can we do to prevent it?
We're basically trying to keep from overheating while balancing what we sweat out with what we take in. If we don't drink enough water we get dehydrated, and if we drink too much water too fast we cause something called hyponaetremia, when the water and electrolytes in our bodies get out of whack. A good rule of thumb is to drink about a pint of water (2-4 cups) every hour even if you don’t feel thirsty. That's about a regular-sized water bottle.
- Drink a bottle of water an hour, and eat some salty snacks.
- Start drinking water a few hours before dancing.
- Stay in good physical shape.
- Wear loose-fitting or athletic clothes that wick away moisture.
- Protect yourself from the sun with a hat, sunglasses, lotion and lip balm.
- Take breaks from dancing and allow your body to cool down. Chill out areas are perfect for this.
- Electrolyte drinks like Gatorade are good but kinda too strong. Dilute them in half with water if you can.
What if I'm going to drink or get high?
Drugs and alcohol complicate matters in several different ways. Physically, stimulants like speed, coke, ecstasy, caffeine or energy drinks raise core body temperatures. Stimulants, alcohol, and other drugs increase sweating and make you pee more. So already we need to pay better attention to how much water we’re drinking. With alcohol another good rule of thumb is to alternate alcoholic drinks with the same amount of water.
Beyond the physical effects there are some mental effects to consider. Many drugs increase feelings of confidence, so we take more risks. Ecstasy and other stimulants can make you feel the urge to pee more, while making you feel less thirsty. Some can make us forget to drink water or eat food. They also make it harder for our bodies to regulate their own temperature, and harder for us to tell how hot we are.
What are the warning signs of dehydration and heat stroke?
- Failure to sweat.
- Cramps in the legs, arms and back.
- Giddiness, dizziness, headache, fatigue.
- Fainting or loss of consciousness.
- Suddenly feeling really tired, irritable and confused.
If any of these things happen, stop dancing, drink some water and chill out immediately.
BUT DON'T DRINK TOO MUCH WATER.
Remember that drinking too much water too fast can cause hyponaetremia, when your water and electrolytes get out of balance. This can be dangerous, and it can make heat stroke worse, too. One bottle per hour is enough.
Water is an antidote to dehydration, not to the effects of ecstasy or other drugs.
What if someone collapses while dancing?
- Call a medic.
- Get the person to as cool a place as possible. This might mean taking them outside or to some shade.
- Drench them with water (as cold as possible) using any means you can. Increase the cooling down process by fanning them with anything that's handy. Focus on places where arteries are close to the skin, like the neck, wrists, and groin. You are looking to get the body temperature down to 102F (38.9C). Once the temperature is down to this level the person should be wrapped in a dry blanket or given some dry clothes to wear. The temperature shouldn't be allowed to fall much below 102F or other serious consequences might develop from too rapid cooling.
- When the medics come tell them what the person has taken (if you know) and that you think it is heat stroke.
- If the person regains consciousness make them drink water with some salt in it. Gatorade or other sports drinks are ideal. At this point the person might start sweating again. This is a good sign.
- The person should be taken to the hospital for observation and proper treatment.
- It may be several weeks or months before the person can dance as much again, and they will need to be extra careful in hot places for a while, too.
Tips for Promoters and Club Owners
Heat Stroke can happen even to people who haven't taken any drugs.
Here are some simple suggestions to prevent heat stroke emergencies from happening at your events.
- Provide some form of easy access to cool drinking water. This can be as simple as making sure there is cool, running water in the bathrooms (shutting off access to cool water in the bathrooms is illegal and extremely dangerous). Providing free water is even better.
- Don't overcrowd your venues. Too many people dancing energetically in an enclosed area can raise the ambient temperature above 100 degrees! Limit your ticket sales based on the "heat capacity" of the venue.
- Provide a chill out room. Couches, bean bag chairs and ambient music make a comfortable environment for people to relax and cool down after dancing energetically.
- Establish proper ventilation and temperature control measures. Air conditioning may not be available, but large fans, open windows and doors can often do the job. Fans blowing hot air from the inside out through an open window are better than from the outside in. Also remember that hot air rises. The heat on the dance floor wants to go up. Ceiling vents with exhaust fans provide the best ventilation.
- Provide safety and harm reduction information to your patrons. DanceSafe offers pamphlets (like this one) and attractive posters (ideal for bathrooms and chill out rooms) with health and safety tips for avoiding heat stroke and other risks of raving.
- Be prepared. Have your security trained in basic first aid, and hire onsite EMTs for events with more than 500 attendees. Always call an ambulance if somebody falls unconscious or starts having a seizure.
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