Intense and prolonged exposure to high temperatures, overexertion, and fatigue in a hot humid environment can ultimately lead to heat-related emergency conditions such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heatstroke.
People who suffer from heat related conditions when given proper and prompt care have a high chance of survival and recovery. A fast but comprehensive assessment is very crucial when caring for victims with heat related conditions. Recognizing the different initial signs and symptoms of heat related conditions can mean survival or fatality.
Recognizing Heat Cramps
Heat cramps are described as painful muscle spasms that normally occur suddenly when exerting too much effort during humid or hot conditions. They usually involve major muscles in the back of the leg specifically the hamstring and calf muscles but can also involve muscles in the abdomen and thighs.
Care for Heat Cramps
To care for victims with heat cramps:
- Stretch the affected cramp muscle.
- Have the victim stop his/her activity and position the victim comfortably preferably in a cool area.
- If the victim is conscious, responsive and not vomiting, give water or commercial sports drink (such as Gatorade) or oral rehydration solution to curb dehydration and replace fluid loss.
Recognizing Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is caused by excessive loss of body fluid and salt through heavy sweating. Heat Exhaustion primarily affects people who don’t drink enough fluids while doing strenuous activities under the direct heat of the sun or those exercising heavily in hot environments and humid conditions.
The signs and indications of persons exhibiting heat exhaustion can include one or a combination of the following:
- Heavy Sweating
- Severe thirst
- Blurring of vision
- Nausea and vomiting
Care for victims with heat exhaustion
To care for victims with heat exhaustion:
- Let the victim stop immediately current activity and assist him/her to rest in a cool shaded area.
- Remove restrictive clothing, shoes and belts.
- Have the victim lie down in a comfortable position.
- Apply cool packs to the armpits and the crease between the thighs to help lower body temperature.
- If the victim is responsive and not vomiting give water or commercial sports drink to regain loss electrolytes.
- Contact emergency medical services if condition worsens or does not improve within thirty minutes. If victim is a child or an elderly frail adult do not delay treatment and must be rush to the nearest hospital for evaluation and further management.
- Do not immerse victim in an ice bath.
- Do not cool victim to the point of shivering.
Heatstroke is the most severe and life threatening heat emergency in which the body becomes dangerously overheated. Heatstroke can occur quickly or it can develop overtime when the environment becomes increasingly to hot and the person’s heat regulating mechanism is compromised such as in an elderly person. The signs of heatstroke can include one or a combination of the following:
- Extremely hot and flushed skin
- Dry skin (may also be wet from strenuous exercise or physical activity)
Care for victims with heatstroke
To care for victims with heatstroke:
- Immediately call for emergency medical services.
- Cool the victim immediately by whatever means available (cool wet towels or blankets to the head and body accompanied by fanning, applying cold or icepacks against the armpits, groin and thighs.
- If victim is unresponsive and lifeless, initiate CPR in repetitive cycles until emergency paramedics arrive.