Heat Exposure

With Midwest temperatures approaching 100° F (37.7° C), this seems a good time to brush up on heat exposure symptoms and treatment to stay safe in the heat.

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Extended exposure to hot, humid environments can overwhelm the body’s ability to cool itself down.  It is important to recognize and to treat the symptoms of heat illness early to prevent a victim from progressing to heat stroke.

Heat Exhaustion

Develops when the body encounters high temperatures it is not used to.  It can look like many other common illnesses.

Signs and Symptoms

Early

  • Heavy Sweating
  • Thirst
  • Minor muscle “twitches” that progress to painful cramping

Late

  • Pale, cool, and moist skin
  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Weakness/dizziness
  • Feels faint or collapses

First Aid

  • Assess the victim
  • Alert EMS by calling 9-1-1
  • Check the victim’s circulation, airway and breathing
  • If responsive, have the victim lie down in a shady, cool place
  • Loosen or remove excess clothing
  • Give cool water to sip
  • Apply cool, wet cloths to the victim’s skin
  • Use a fan to lower the victim’s body temperature
  • Place cold compresses on the victim’s neck, groin and armpits

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke, where the body temperature is in excess of 105° F (40.5° C), is a true, life-threatening medical emergency.  Such a high body temperature can quickly cause permanent damage to the organs, including the brain and spinal cord.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Decreasing mental status (confusion, hallucinations, bizarre behavior)
  • Very warm, or even hot, skin temperature (heavy sweating may be present)
  • Seizure
  • Unconsciousness

First Aid

  • Assess the victim
  • Alert EMS by calling 9-1-1
  • Check the victim’s circulation, airway and breathing
  • Begin aggressive cooling with any resources available
  • Spray or pour water on the victim and fan him/her
  • Apply ice packs to the victim’s neck, groin and armpits and/or cover the victim with a wet sheet

If unresponsive:

  •  Place the victim on his/her side in the recovery position to protect the airway
  • Provide continuous cooling until EMS arrives (with rapid cooling and medical treatment, survival rates approach 90%)
  • Do not give the victim anything by mouth if vomiting or unconscious
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