How To Perform First Aid for Heat Stroke

How to identify heat stroke and provide first aid treatment.

When the temperatures soar, it's tempting to spend more time outside.  Soaking up the sun can be a good time, but if the correct precautions are not taken, a perfect summer day can turn to tragedy.  Being prepared to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness can help make sure your summer leaves you with nothing but good memories.

What are Heat-Related Illnesses?

Heat-related illnesses can occur when a person spends an excessive amount of time in a hot environment without being properly hydrated.  It is important to take precautions to prevent them from occurring, as the effects can be serious.  Heat exhaustion occurs after prolonged heat exposure without proper hydration, especially if physical exertion has been a factor, and it is a sign that heat stroke is imminent if the victim is not removed from the environment.  Heat stroke occurs when heat exhaustion is ignored, and is a sign that the body can no longer regulate its temperature.  If untreated, it can result in death.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs of heat exhaustion include headache, excessive sweating, thirst, tiredness or weakness, muscle soreness, dizziness, faintness or light headedness, and upset stomach or nausea.  When heat exhaustion becomes heat stroke, the body cannot regulate its own temperature and body temperature will increase rapidly.  The victim's skin will feel like it is on fire and sweating will likely stop.  It may take awhile to notice the cessation of sweating, as the body will still be covered in the previous sweat until it dries.  Nausea may progress to actual vomiting, and dizziness or faintness may progress to a reduced level of consciousness or loss of consciousness.


Triggers of heat-related illness include: prolonged heat and/or sun exposure and extreme physical exertion, especially in hot temperatures.


If heat exhaustion or heat stroke is suspected, the victim must be removed from the hot environment right away.  The victim should be assessed to figure out how serious the condition is.  If signs of heat stroke are present, emergency medical services (911 in most North American cities) should be contacted right away.  If the victim's condition is not as serious, they should be monitored and their body should be cooled down.  Ways to do this include: finding shade or shelter, giving cool (not cold, as the abrupt temperature change can cause a person to go into shock) water to sip, using fans or an air-conditioned environment, and removing as much clothing as decency will permit.  (In a life-or-death situation, even decency should come second to saving a life.) 

If a heat stroke victim falls unconscious, he/she should be monitored for respiration and pulse rates while the cooling effort continues.  Anytime a person goes unconscious, 911 should be called.

Prevention is key to preventing heat-related illnesses.  Avoiding the hottest time of day for outdoor physical activities, making sure you always have water or a sports drink for hydration, and monitoring how you and your friends feel will help you avoid falling prey to heat stroke.

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Aileen Tecson
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Posted on Aug 18, 2010