Preventing heat-related illnesses
Heat-related illness usually comes in stages. Here are the signs and symptoms and basic information on how to care for someone experiencing a heat-related illness. Any heat-related illness may be serious or even deadly if left unattended.
General care for heat emergencies include cooling the body, giving fluids and minimizing shock.
By the time your body tells you that you are thirsty, you are already mildly dehydrated.
- Drinking water at this stage can prevent you from progressing to the more serious kinds of heat related illnesses.
- Remember to only drink small amounts of water at a time.
Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. They usually involve the abdominal muscles or the legs. The loss of water and salt from heavy sweating causes heat cramps. These cramps can be mild or very painful.
- If you are caring for a person who has heat cramps, have them stop activity and rest.
- If the person is fully awake and alert, have him or her drink small amounts of cool water or a commercial sports drink.
- Gently stretch the cramped muscle and hold the stretch for about 20 seconds, then gently massage the muscle. Repeat these steps if necessary.
- If the victim has no other signals of heat-related illness, the person may resume activity after the cramps stop.
Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke, but should still be taken very seriously. It typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Fluid loss causes blood flow to decrease in the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock.
With heat exhaustion, sweat does not evaporate as it should, possibly because of high humidity or too many layers of clothing. As a result, the body is not cooled properly. Signals include cool, moist, pale, flushed or red skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea or vomiting, dizziness and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.
- Get the person to a cooler place and rest in a comfortable position.
- If the person is fully awake and alert, give them a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes.
- Do not let him or her drink too quickly or provide any liquids containing alcohol, as they can make conditions worse.
- Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths such as towels or wet sheets or mist with water.
- Get the person into an air conditioned space if possible.
- Call 9-1-1 if the person refuses water, vomits or loses consciousness.
Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin, changes in consciousness, rapid, weak pulse and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can also be very high—sometimes as high as 105° F.
Heat stroke is life threatening.
Call 9-1-1 immediately if you are suffering from any of the above symptoms.
- Call 9-1-1 immediately.
- Move the person to a cooler place.
- Quickly cool the body using any means available, including cool water and ice.
- If you have ice packs or cold packs, wrap them in a cloth and place them on each of the victim's wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels. (Do not use rubbing alcohol because it closes the skin's pores and prevents heat loss.)
- Wrap wet sheets around the body and place the person in front of a fan or air conditioner.
- Watch for signals of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear.
- Remember to keep the person lying down