Heat emergencies (or illnesses) occur due to overexposure to extreme heat. This can be caused by overly hot temperatures or environments, or from difficult physical activity, especially on hot days. Heat emergencies come in three main stages: Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Being aware of the symptoms and first aid of each stage is essential, and may help you easily identify and treat the onset of a heat emergency, saving either your, or someone else’s, life.
Symptoms of heat cramps
- Muscle cramps and pains that most often occur in the legs or abdomen
- Very heavy sweating
When experiencing heat cramps, it is important to rest and cool down, especially if you or the person suffering from the symptoms were engaging in physical activity. Try to move to a cooler place, drink clear juice or an electrolyte-containing sports drink (like Gatorade), and do gentle stretches and massages on the affected area. Do not continue with any activity for several hours, even after the cramps go away. Contact your doctor if the cramps continue for over an hour.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cool, moist skin
- Dark urine
Heat stroke usually occurs after heat cramps. When you or someone around you begins to experience these symptoms, the first thing to do is to move them out of the heat, either into shade or air conditioning. Remove any tight or heavy clothing, and lay down with the legs and feet elevated slightly. It is important to stay hydrated with a cool drink without caffeine or alcohol, ideally, water, and to stay cool by keeping a fan on or by spraying or damping cool water onto the affected person. Monitor the affected person or be sure to be monitored if you are affected. If you are alone and your symptoms are not getting better, call 9-1-1. If you or the affected person experiences fainting, confusion, seizures, or a fever of 104°F or over, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Symptoms of heat stroke
- Fever (temperature above 104°F)
- Irrational behavior
- Extreme confusion
- Dry, hot, and red skin
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Rapid, weak pulse
If you or someone near you begins to experience signs and symptoms of heat stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Move the affected person to a cool area, and try to keep them cool. This can include putting them in a cool tub or shower, lightly spraying them with cold water from a hose, sponging or spraying cool water onto them, or placing ice packs or cold wet towels on their neck, armpits, and groin. If they are able to drink, give them cold water. If the person loses consciousness and stops breathing, coughing or moving, perform CPR.