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What should I do if someone has signs of heat exhaustion?
Move them out of the sun to a cool, shady spot or room to relax. Lay the person down on their back and elevate their feet slightly.
Loosen or remove clothing. Get the person to drink cold (not iced) water to replace lost fluids. Monitor the person closely.
What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body cannot lose heat fast enough. If not treated quickly, it can lead to heat stroke, which is a much more dangerous condition.
Signs of heat exhaustion include faintness, dizziness, palpitations, nausea, headaches, low blood pressure, tiredness, confusion, loss of appetite and hallucinations.
Signs and symptoms
One of the body's most important methods of temperature regulation is perspiration. This process draws heat from inside, allowing it to be carried off by radiation or convection. Evaporation of the sweat furthers cooling, since this endothermic process draws yet more heat from the body. When the body becomes sufficiently dehydrated to prevent the production of sweat this avenue of heat reduction is closed. When the body is no longer capable of sweating, core temperature begins to rise swiftly.
Victims may become confused, may become hostile, often experience headache, and may seem intoxicated. Blood pressure may drop significantly from dehydration, leading to possible fainting or dizziness, especially if the victim stands suddenly. Heart rate and respiration rate will increase (tachycardia and tachypnea) as blood pressure drops and the heart attempts to supply enough oxygen to the body. The skin will become red as blood vessels dilate in an attempt to increase heat dissipation, sometimes leading to swollen lips. The decrease in blood pressure will cause blood vessels to contract as heat stroke progresses, resulting in a pale or bluish skin colour. Complaints of feeling hot may be followed by chills and trembling, as is the case in fever. Some victims, especially young children, may suffer convulsions. Acute dehydration such as that accompanying heat stroke can produce nausea and vomiting; temporary blindness may also be observed. Eventually, as body organs begin to fail, unconsciousness and coma will result.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization, and the local emergency services should be notified as soon as possible.
The body temperature must be lowered immediately. The patient should be moved to a cool area (indoors, or at least in the shade) and clothing removed to promote heat loss (passive cooling). Active cooling methods may be used: The person is bathed in cool water, a hyperthermia vest can be applied, however, wrapping the patient in wet towels or clothes can actually act as insulation and increase the body temperature. Cold compresses to the torso, head, neck, and groin will help cool the victim. A fan may be used to aid in evaporation of the water (evaporative method).
Immersing a patient into a bathtub of cool - but not cold - water (immersion method) is a recognized method of cooling. This method requires the effort of 4-5 persons and the patient should be monitored carefully during the treatment process. This should be avoided for an unconscious patient; if there is no alternative, the patient's head must be held above water. Care should be taken not to make the water too cold, as immersion in ice or very cold water is dangerous as this may cause vasoconstriction in the skin, preventing heat from escaping the body core.
Hydration is of paramount importance in cooling the patient. This is achieved by drinking water (Oral rehydration). Commercial isotonic drinks may be used as a substitute. Some authorities are opposed to giving any fluids, except by emergency personnel. Intravenous hydration (via a drip) is necessary if the patient is confused, unconscious, or unable to tolerate oral fluids.
Alcohol rubs will cause further dehydration and impairment of consciousness and should be avoided. The patient's condition should be reassessed and stabilized by trained medical personnel. The patient's heart rate and breathing should be monitored, and CPR may be necessary if the patient goes into cardiac arrest.
The patient should be placed into the recovery position to ensure that the person's airway remains open.