Heat-Related Illness Signs, Symptoms And Treatment

In very hot weather, you can get burnt from contact with the hot ground in seconds. If someone has collapsed outdoors, try to place something between them and the hot ground (like a towel or blanket) to prevent burns, or if safe to do so - move them into the shade or onto the grass. 

Early signs of dehydration and heat-related illness include:

  • sweating heavily
  • having a raised body temperature
  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • feeling tired and lethargic
  • reduced appetite
  • feeling thirsty
  • being irritable
  • twitching or having painful muscle cramps in the arms, legs or abdomen  

If you or someone you know is showing these signs and feeling unwell:

  • stop what you are doing, go to a cool, shaded place and lie down
  • drink plenty of water or other fluids, avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • try to cool down with a fan or an air-conditioner, a cool damp towel around your neck, cool water sprayed on your skin or by having a cool shower or bath
  • use massage to ease any spasms or cramps, then use ice packs
  • if still unwell after taking these steps, seek medical advice as soon as possible.

More serious heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustions is a mild to moderate illness caused by water or salt depletion, that results from exposure to high heat or strenuous physical exercise.

The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include (in addition to those above):

  • headaches
  • having a raised body temperature
  • sweating heavily
  • fatigue, weakness and restlessness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weak, rapid pulse
  • poor coordination
  • anxiety

What to do if you or someone you know is showing the signs of heat exhaustion:

  • stop what you are doing, go to a cool, shaded place and lie down with legs supported and slightly lifted
  • slowly sip plenty of water or fruit juice, avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • try to cool down with a fan or an air-conditioner, cool water sprayed on skin or by having a cool shower or bath
  • reduce body temperature by putting cool packs under the armpits, in the groin and on the back of the neck
  • use massage to ease spasms or cramps, then use ice packs.

If symptoms of heat exhaustion last for more than an hour, call 000 immediately for an ambulance or go to a hospital Emergency Department.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a severe illness where a person’s temperature is greater than 40°C, and the person is experiencing delirium (confusion), convulsions, or coma, resulting from exposure to high heat or strenuous physical exercise.

The signs and symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and confusion
  • having flushed, hot and unusually dry skin
  • being extremely thirsty
  • having a dry, swollen tongue
  • having a sudden rise in body temperature to more than 40°C
  • being disoriented or delirious
  • slurred speech
  • being aggressive or behaving strangely
  • convulsions, seizures or coma.
  • may be sweating and skin may feel deceptively cool
  • rapid pulse

Emergency treatment for heatstroke

If you notice any of the above signs of heatstroke in yourself or others, call 000 immediately for an ambulance.

Heatstroke is an extreme medical emergency. If not treated immediately, it can lead to permanent damage to vital organs or even death.

While waiting for the ambulance to arrive:

  • if possible, move the person to somewhere cool and keep them still
  • loosen their clothes, sprinkle them with cool water, or wrap them in a damp sheet
  • place cool, damp cloths in their armpits, on the back of their neck and on their forehead to cool them down as quickly as possible
  • use a fan to help cool them down if one is available
  • do not give aspirin or paracetamol to a person affected by heat.

If the person is conscious:

  • try to keep them calm
  • give them small sips of water or fruit juice
  • stay with them until the ambulance arrives.

If the person is unconscious:

  • check their airway is clear
  • monitor their pulse rate
  • stay with them until the ambulance arrives.


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