How to: First Aid in Heat Related Emergencies

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June 9, 2024
How to: First Aid in Heat Related Emergencies
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Heat- Related Illnesses

Hyperthermia occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above the normal range. It results when a mechanism that cools the body is impaired by clothing, drugs, or disease, or overwhelmed by internal heat production and/or external exposure. Heat-related illnesses will get worse without treatment and can change from one level to another very quickly.

Prevention

  • Drink plenty of fluids. The Canadian Red Cross recommends eight 250 mL (8 oz) glasses of water daily for low-exertion activities. For high-exertion activities, an individual should drink more to maintain hydrated.
  • Avoid being outdoors during the hottest part of the day.
  • Take frequent breaks in a cool room or shaded area to cool off.
  • Dress appropriately for hot days
  • Make adjustments to exertion levels and work/rest cycles on hot days.

Heat Cramps

Heats cramps are painful muscle spasms caused by loss of fluids and electrolytes as a result of sweating. Typically, this injury is not serious and is the initial sign of overheating.

To care, reduce exposure to heat and, if possible, move the person to a cooler environment. When possible, have the person slowly consume an electrolyte-replacement beverage (e.g., sport drinks, coconut water, fruit juice). A heat cramp may further be soothed by gentle stretches and massages directly and around the cramped muscle.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body begins to overheat and lose fluids and electrolytes. Heat exhaustion can further progress and cause heat stroke. People experiencing heat exhaustion will likely have the following signs and symptoms;

  • Moist skin that is flushed (red in colour) immediately after exertion, and then turns pale or ashen (grey)
  • Dehydration or intense thirst
  • Headache, nausea, dizziness or fainting
  • Weakness or exhaustion

Call EMS/9-1-1 if the person is vomiting, has an altered level of responsiveness, or is unable to drink fluids.

To care, reduce heat exposure and move the ill person into a cooled environment if possible. Loosen any tight clothing and remove appropriate layers if possible. Pour cool water on clothing or cloths such as towels and place them on the person’s chest. Apply ice or cold packs to the armpits and chest. If the person is responsive and able to swallow, have them slowly sip appropriate fluids. Advise the person not to do any further activities in the heat until they feel the have properly recovered. The effects of heat exhaustion may last a day.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most severe heat-related illness. It is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the body’s cooling system is completely overwhelmed and stops working. This indicates the person is likely to stop sweating which results in the fast rise of internal temperatures. Life-threatening high temperatures cause the brain and other vital organs to seize proper functions. This may result in unresponsiveness, seizures and if left untreated, death.

The person may have the following signs & symptoms;

  • Core temperature above 40 °C (104°F)
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Flushed (red) or pale skin
  • Headache
  • Altered mental status
  • Irritable, bizarre, or aggressive behaviour
  • Progressive loss of responsiveness

To care, immediately call EMS/9-1-1 and get an AED. Move the person to a cooler environment and quickly cool the person using the following techniques. Immerse the person in cool water from the neck down, leaving their clothing on. If this is not possible, immerse the person’s forearms and hands in cool water. If this is not possible, loosen any tight clothing and remove appropriate layers if possible. Pour cool water on clothing or cloths such as towels and place them on the person’s chest. Apply ice or cold packs to the armpits and chest. If the person is responsive and able to swallow, have them slowly sip appropriate fluids. Advise the person not to do any further activities in the heat until they feel the have properly recovered. The effects of heat exhaustion may last several days.