First Aid for Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two conditions caused by
environmental heat exposure. Heat exhaustion is a condition where the core temperature of the body rises from 370C (98.60F- Normal) to 400C (1040F). This is a relatively mild condition where the person is recovered fully by prompt first aid measures. But if this condition left untreated it can progress to heat stroke where the core temperature rises above 400C (1040F), with failed thermoregulation of the body, leading to major metabolic disturbances, dehydration, organ failure and death.
Therefore it is important to detect these conditions at early stage (heat exhaustion) where a few simple measures can even save a life. Certain groups of people such as,
- Children less than 2years old
- People with impaired kidney or liver functions
- Alcohol intoxicated individuals
- People on certain drugs (e.g. β-blockers and anti-psychotics)
- Bed bound and disabled individuals
are considered as having a high risk to develop heat related illnesses.
Causes of heat exhaustion
- Very high environmental temperature
- Exertion in hot humid weather
- Over-strenuous exertion
- Alcohol usage
- Cocaine, amphetamine and Ecstasy abuse
Symptoms of heat exhaustion
- When core temperature of the body rises, person first experience heat cramps characterized by intense thirst, muscle cramps and fatigue. If the condition is not attended at his stage it progresses to heat exhaustion. It is characterized by symptoms stated below.
- Hot, flushed skin
- Heavy sweating
- Intense fatigue
- Low urine output
First aid in heat exhaustion
- Get the victim to rest in a cool place – ideally with air conditioning, if not possible get to a shade.
- Remove excess cloths
- Provide adequate water or rehydration fluid for the victim to drink (better if cool, but not cold).
- Cool the skin of the victim with cold water, immerse in a bath or under a shower
- Do not give alcohol or caffeine containing beverages.
- Do not use alcohol containing liquids to cool the skin.
- If the symptoms are not resolving within an hour, prompt medical attention is required.
When above measures fail and the body overheat bypassing thermoregulation over 400C (1040F) it is called heatstroke. This is a medical emergency, and if prompt and proper medical attention is not given it can lead to brain damage and death.
- High body temperature 400C (1040F).
- Sudden stopping of profuse sweating.
- Mental confusion
- Lack of coordination
- Loss of consciousness
First aid for heatstroke
- This is a medical emergency, call 911 urgently.
- Move the person to a cool area as soon as possible
- Remove all cloths
- Increase ventilation by opening windows, fans or air conditioning.
- Shower or immerse in cool (15 – 18 0C) water. Alternatively cover the body with cool, damp towels or sheets.
- Gently massage skin to enhance circulation.
- If having seizures manage accordingly.
- If the person is conscious give cool water/fluid to drink.
- If unconscious, open the airway with head tilt and chin lift, and turn the patient to recovery position.
- If not breathing, attend to basic life support.
Avoiding heat exhaustion and heat stroke
- Stay out of the sun in very hot and humid climates.
- If you have to go out in such conditions stay in shade, wear a hat and loose clothing.
- Avoid extreme physical exertion and strenuous activities in hot climates.
- Do not leave anyone (especially children and elderly) in parked cars in hot climates.
- Have plenty of cold drinks, but avoid those containing caffeine or alcohol.
- Take a cool shower or a bath.
Whenever you have cramps, fatigue and thirst when exercising or working under sun, recognize as heat cramps, stop work immediately let the body to cool and have enough fluids.