Recognize, treat heat-related illnesses

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 23, 2003

Elderly persons, small children, chronic invalids, individuals taking certain medications or drugs (especially tranquilizers and anticholinergics) and persons with weight and alcohol problems are particularly susceptible to heat reactions.


In severe cases, swelling of skin, blisters, fever and headaches. Ointment for mild cases if blisters appear. If breaking occurs, apply dry sterile dressing. Serious, extensive cases should be seen by a physician.

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Heat Cramps

Muscular pains and spasms usually involving the abdominal muscles or legs due to heavy exertion. Loss of water from heavy sweating is generally the cause.

Heat cramps are often the first signal that the body is having trouble with heat. Stop activity and rest in a cool place. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and replenish fluids. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes.

If using electrolyte replacement fluids, dilute by at least half with water. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them. They can make conditions worse. If nausea occurs, discontinue use.

Heat Exhaustion

Cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature may be normal or is likely rising.

Typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs.

This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim’s condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim may suffer heat stroke. Get victim out of sun and into a cooler place. Lay down and loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths to the body. Place victim in front of a fan or move to an air conditioned room.

If the person is conscious, give cool water to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Do not give liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine. If nausea occurs, discontinue use. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention.

Let the victim rest in a comfortable position and watch carefully for changes in his or her condition.

Heat Stroke or Sunstroke

Hot, red, dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. High body temperature (105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher). If the person was sweating from heavy work or exercise, skin may be wet; otherwise, it will feel dry.

The victim’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so quickly that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. Delaying can be fatal. Call 911 or your local emergency number.

Move the victim to a cool environment. Quickly cool the body. Immerse the victim in a cool bath or wrap wet sheets around the body and fan it. Watch for signs of breathing problems. Keep the person lying down and continue cooling the body any way you can. If temperature rises again, repeat process. If the victim refuses water, is vomiting or there are any changes in the level of consciousness, DO NOT GIVE FOOD OR FLUIDS.