Heat illness includes a range of first aid emergencies that result when your body is exposed to more heat than it can handle. The human body is constantly engaged in a life-and-death struggle to disperse the heat it produces. If allowed to accumulate, the heat would quickly increase your body temperature beyond its comfortable 98.6° F.
Who is at risk?
Heat-related illness can affect anyone not used to hot weather, especially when it's combined with high humidity.
Those especially at risk include:
Infants, young children, elderly and pets
Individuals with heart or circulatory problems or other long-term illness
Employees working in the heat
Athletes and people who like to exercise (especially beginners)
Individuals taking certain medications that alter sweat production
Heatstroke is the most serious and life-threatening heat-related illness. In certain circumstances, your body can build up too much heat, your temperature may rise to life-threatening levels, and you can become delirious or lose consciousness. If you do not rid your body of excess heat fast enough, it "cooks" the brain and other vital organs. It is often fatal, and those who do survive may have permanent damage to their vital organs.
Symptoms of heatstroke
The victim's body feels extremely hot when touched
Altered mental status (behavior) ranging from slight confusion and disorientation to coma
Conscious victims usually become irrational, agitated, or even aggressive and may have seizures
In severe heatstroke, the victim can go into a coma – the longer the coma lasts, the lower the chance for survival
What to do
1. Call 911
2. Move the person to a cool place
3. Remove outer clothing
4. Immediately cool the person with any means at hand, preferably by immersing the person up to the neck in cold water with the help of a second rescuer – other methods include wrapping the person in a wet sheet kept wet; sponging the person with cold water; spraying the person with water and vigorously fanning the area; or applying ice packs on the neck, armpits or groin
Heat exhaustion is characterized by heavy perspiration with normal or slightly above normal body temperatures. It is caused by water or salt depletion or both (severe dehydration). Heat exhaustion affects workers and athletes who do not drink enough fluids while working or exercising in hot environments.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
Sweating, pale/ashen moist skin, thirst, fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and fast/shallow breathing – later signs include headache, dizziness or fainting
The affected person often mistakenly believes he or she has the flu. Uncontrolled heat exhaustion can evolve into heatstroke.
What to do
1. Move the person from the heat to rest in a cool place and loosen or remove outer clothing
2. Cool the person with one of these methods:
· Put wet cloths on the forehead and body
· Sponge the skin with cool water
· Spray the skin with water from a spray bottle and fan the area
3. Give the person a sports drink or water to drink
Heat cramps are painful muscular spasms that happen suddenly affecting legs or abdominal muscles. They usually happen after physical activity in people who sweat a lot or have not had enough fluids.
What to do
1. Have the person stop the activity and sit in the shade
2. Give the person a sports drink or water to drink
3. Have the person avoid strenuous activity for a few hours to prevent progression to heat exhaustion or heat stroke
4. Stretch affected muscles
Information and recommendations are compiled from sources believed to be reliable. The National Safety Council makes no guarantee as to and assumes no responsibility for the correctness, sufficiency or completeness of such information or recommendations. Other or additional safety measures may be required under particular circumstances.