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First Aid 

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a condition that develops gradually with sustained exposure to a hot, humid environment. Heat exhaustion is caused when the body produces more heat than it is able to handle or when the body loses significant amounts of salt and water through excess sweating. A person is more at risk to develop heat exhaustion if he or she is engaging in physical activity in hot and humid conditions. Those who are ill or unwell are more likely to develop heat exhaustion. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to a much more dangerous condition known as heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Fatigue

  • Rapid, weak pulse

  • Cool, moist skin with goosebumps

  • Dizziness/faintness/lightheadedness

  • Heavy sweating

  • Cramps

  • Headache

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Low blood pressure with standing

  • Irritability

  • Thirst

To help treat heat exhaustion, take the following steps:

  1. Help the affected individual move to a cooler location - ideally shade or air conditioned indoors - and raise and support his or her legs above heart level.

  2. Remove any heavy or tight clothing and give the individual plenty of cool water to drink. 

  3. Cool the person down by immersing them in an ice bath or by placing ice/cold wet towels on the head, neck, trunk, armpits, and groin. Use fans and spray with cool water if available. 

  4. Monitor vital signs and response level.

  5. Call for emergency medical assistance if the person worsens or if their symptoms don’t improve within 1 hour. 

Always encourage the affected individual to seek medical assistance even if symptoms of heat exhaustion improve quickly. Seek emergency medical assistance if any of the following symptoms arise:

  • Unconsciousness/fainting

  • Confusion

  • Agitation

  • Inability to drink

  • Slurred speech

  • Seizures

  • Body temperature equal to or greater than 104F. 

Resources

Austin, M., Crawford, R., & Armstrong, V. J. (2014). First aid manual. (G. M. Piazza, Ed.) (5th ed.). DK Publishing. https://kuiyem.ku.edu.tr/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/American-College-of-Emergency-Physicians-ACEP-First-Aid-Manual.pdf

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, March 31). Heat exhaustion: First aid. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-heat-exhaustion/basics/art-20056651.  

United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Heat-related illnesses and first aid. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. https://www.osha.gov/heat-exposure/illness-first-aid.