Last updated: 01.08.17

Treating Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke - Signs & Symptoms

Please note that this information does not qualify you as an official first aider, and Virtual College advise calling 999 in the first instance at the scene of an emergency.

This material and any associated assessments do not constitute a qualification or accreditation as an official first aider. All content provided is for general information only.

Virtual College advocate dialling the emergency services before attempting any form of first aid.

Treating Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are both conditions that arise from becoming too hot, and can be serious in nature. There are a variety of things that can cause them, but the most common is simply not taking the correct precautions during hot weather or a heatwave.

Heat exhaustion is generally the first stage of the two, and occurs when a person becomes hot to the point that they begin to lose excessive water and/or salt from their body, and a variety of symptoms can occur. Heat stroke is a more dangerous condition, which often develops after heat exhaustion, and is where the body is no longer able to regulate its temperature properly.

Note that sun stroke is a commonly used term, that simply refers to heat stroke caused by excessive exposure to the sun.

Both conditions are serious, but prolonged heat stroke can be life-threatening, so it is important to know how to prevent and treat it. In this article, we’re going to explain what you can do to help a person suffering from either of them, and how to prevent them in the first place.

What are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke?

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can cause a variety of different symptoms, not all of which will occur in all people, and not all of which are easy to identify. However, the most commonly encountered signs of heat exhaustion are the following:

  • General tiredness, weakness or the feeling of being faint and dizzy
  • Feeling sick or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps or headaches
  • Low blood pressure or a faster pulse
  • Heavy sweating
  • Signs of dehydration such as thirst or decreased urination
  • In very severe cases, the following heat stroke symptoms can also occur:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Our course on the Primary Survey can help people learn how to respond in a first aid situation, and is useful in dealing with people with the above symptoms. Click here to find out more.

    How to Give Treatment to Someone with Heat Exhaustion

    If you suspect that someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, then there are a variety of steps you can take to alleviate their symptoms. Heat exhaustion treatment includes the following:

  • Move the person to a cooler location, particularly one inside if they have been outdoors, and have them lie down.
  • Have them drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, but sports drinks and juices are a good alternative.
  • Cool them down through whatever means available. This can include using a wet cloth on the back of the neck, removing some of their clothes, and fanning them.
  • The above steps should help most people to recover from heat exhaustion and heat stroke, but if the symptoms do not alleviate within around 30 mins, then you should seek emergency help by calling 999. If any of the symptoms are particularly severe, such as seizures or unconsciousness, then you should call the emergency services immediately.

    The above steps should be continued until medical help arrives, and if the person is unconscious, they should be placed into the recovery position.

    For more information about how Virtual College can help deliver courses on first aid, including placing people into the recovery position, then click here

    How to Prevent Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

    While both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious, they are fortunately entirely avoidable if you take precautions in hot weather or in hot environments.

    Keep an eye on the weather in order to be prepared. If you know it’s hot outside, then try to stay out of the sun during the midday peak, stay in the shade where possible, wear appropriate clothing, and don’t over exert yourself physically. If you’re with other people, particularly those susceptible to heat-related conditions, then look out for them too.

    Staying hydrated is also very important, and as result, you should drink plenty of fluids, while avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Cool drinks will also help you to keep your temperature down.

    In general, take all the precautions you can to keep your temperature down, and help others do the same.

    Who is Most at Risk?

    As with a great many conditions, there are certain people who are more likely to be at risk of either heat exhaustion or heat stroke. These are people either who are physically more susceptible to the symptoms, or who are more likely to be in a situation that causes a heat-related condition.

    Babies, young children and the elderly are particularly at risk from these conditions, so it’s very important that the focus of prevention is on them. In addition, people with generally poor health, or who are already suffering from long-term issues are less likely to be able to control their body temperature well. Their condition may also exacerbate the symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

    Healthy adults are still at risk from both of these conditions if they undertake a lot of physical activity in hot environments. Members of the military, manual workers and people exercising are such examples. As a result, it’s important for everyone to be aware of the risks.

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