What are Heat Related Emergencies? | Symptoms & First Aid

by | Apr 5, 2024

Preparing your family for a day in the hot summer heat can be challenging. Whether you have an athlete on the field, a toddler, or an older family member – preparation is key! 

As a sports Mom of three, I have stressed to my children the importance of hydrating days prior to any sporting event or being in a hot environment. Last summer, my son got to witness my advice firsthand. On a hot summer day in June, during a lacrosse showcase camp in Georgia; a player on the field started stumbling, dropping passes and missing ground balls. He ran off the field and started vomiting. As any dedicated athlete, he took a drink of water then ran back on the field. To most, none of these were “signs” of a heat related illness. After a few minutes went by, his skin turned bright red. The trainer pulled him off the field and started evaluating him; she noticed a key sign of an emergent heat related illness – HE WAS NOT SWEATING! The trainer called 911, which resulted in the player being packed in ice cold rags and an ambulance ride to the Emergency Department. 

After this incident, my son and the players finally allowed me to place cold rags on the back of their necks during breaks to help them cool down.  

What are Heat Related Emergencies? 

Heat-related illnesses can occur when the body is exposed to abnormal or prolonged amounts of heat and humidity without relief or adequate fluid intake. These conditions can range from mild to severe, and it’s essential to recognize the symptoms and take appropriate actions. Here are the three main types of heat-related illnesses are HEAT CRAMPS, HEAT EXHAUSTION, AND HEAT STROKE. 

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat illness. They consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat.  

Heat Cramps First Aid 

If you experience heat cramps, move to a cool place, rest, remove excess clothing, place cool cloths on your skin, and give yourself cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar. 

Heat Exhaustion 

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps. It results from a loss of water and salt in the body due to excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Symptoms include muscle cramps, pale, moist skin, fever (usually over 100.4°F or 34°C), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, weakness, anxiety, and faint feelings.  

Heat Exhaustion First Aid 

If you suspect heat exhaustion, move to a cool place, rest, remove excess clothing, place cool cloths on your skin, and give yourself cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar. Seek medical attention if there’s no improvement or if you’re unable to take fluids.  

Heat Stroke 

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness. It occurs when the body’s heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include warm, dry skin; high fever (usually over 104°F or 40°C); rapid heart rate; loss of appetite; nausea; vomiting; and headache. Remember that children and teens adjust more slowly than adults to changes in environmental heat. They also produce more heat with activity but sweat less. Overweight individuals or those wearing heavy clothing during exertion are also more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Stay hydrated, avoid prolonged exposure to extreme heat, and seek medical help promptly if you experience any symptoms of heat-stroke and call 911. 

Understanding the symptoms of dehydration at different ages can be live saving: Infants and young children can experience – dry mouth, no tears when crying, no wet diapers for three hours, sunken eyes or cheeks, sunken soft spot-on top of skull or listlessness or irritability.  For older adults: one can experience extreme thirst, less frequent urination, dark-colored urine, fatigue, dizziness, or confusion. Older adults may have lower volume of water in their bodies due to taking medications which can increase their risk of dehydration and heat related illnesses. 

Heat Stoke First Aid 

For heat stoke you need to call 911 and get them cooled down as quickly as possible. This means while you wait on the EMTs, you should cool them down with any means you have available. First, if possible, bring them inside or at least out of the sun. If you have ice packs, then place them anywhere. Blood flow is higher, for example: armpits, behind the neck, groin, ankles, knees, and wrist. If you have a bathtub available, you may even put them in a cold bath. If they are conscious, then you can carefully give them water or a sports drink to drink. However, be careful that they don’t choke on this.  

Additionally, you can remove excess clothing and do anything else that would cool them down, like the use of a fan. 

If they were to lose consciousness and stop breathing, then you need to start doing CPR and use an AED if it is available. You would still leave the ice packs in place to cool them down. 

Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke Symptoms  

The key difference between the two is for heat exhaustion they are still sweating and have cold clammy skin while for heat stroke, they have stopped sweating and have hot dry skin.  

Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke First Aid 

The main difference is for heat stroke you need to call 911 while heat exhaustion you can still deal with this on your own. In both cases, you need to cool them down as fast as possible, but heat stroke is more urgent and life threating because if they aren’t cooled down soon, they can die. The best-case scenario for someone with heat stroke would be to put them in a cool bath or even an ice bath. If that isn’t available, then use as many ice packs as possible and bring them inside. For heat stroke, be careful with giving them anything to drink because they are more likely to choke on it.  

For heat exhaustion, your main treatment is hydration and bringing them to a cool location. While you can go more extreme like you would for heat stroke, this is not required unless their symptoms worsen. 

Heat-Exhaustion-vs-Heat-Stroke-Symptoms-and-First-Aid infographic

Tips for Preventing Heat Related Emergencies 

Heat-related injuries are serious and can be life-threatening.  Prevention is very important. Here are some tips to prevent heat related emergencies.

  • Stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. If you need to be outside, make sure to take rest inside regularly.  
  • Drink plenty of fluids, even if you are not thirsty. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks, as they can cause dehydration. 
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing. Apply sunscreen of at least SPF 15 and wear a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun. 
  • Limit your outdoor activities to the cooler hours of the day, such as early morning or evening. Avoid strenuous exercise in the heat and take frequent breaks in the shade or indoors. 
  • Pace yourself and listen to your body. If you feel dizzy, weak, nauseous, or have a headache, stop what you are doing and seek a cool place. Drink water and rest until you feel better. 
  • Never leave children, pets, or anyone else in a parked car, even with the windows cracked. The temperature inside a car can rise quickly and cause heatstroke or death. 
  • Check on your neighbors, especially those who are elderly, disabled, or live alone. Make sure they have access to cooling and hydration. 

If you or someone else shows signs of heatstroke, such as high fever, confusion, rapid pulse, or loss of consciousness, call 911 immediately and move the person to a cool place. 

Read more tips here from the CDC.

Next Steps

To learn more about First Aid, sign up for one of our CPR and First Aid classes across Georgia and South Carolina either in person or online, or request a class at your facility here. This is a great training for moms like me, for those who need this training for work, or for anyone who just wants to learn more and be prepared. Either way, the training will help you be more prepared for emergences you may face.

About First Response

First Response provides CPR, First Aid, and Fire Safety training to clients across Georgia and South Carolina for over 23 years. We believe training should be relevant, informative, and fun! Feedback from our clients consistently shows that they not only enjoy our classes, they learn something new–even for folks that have taken the class many times before.

Contact us to book a class for your facility, or sign up for a class here.

About the Author

<a href="https://www.firstresponsecpr.com/blog/author/tara-mears/" target="_self">Tara Mears</a>

Tara Mears

CPR, First Aid, and Fire Safety Instructor

Tara has been with First Response for over 9 years; she taught from 2004 to 2013 and returned in 2022. She teaches CPR, First Aid, and Fire Safety Courses. She helps coordinate our classes across Georgia and South Carolina and understands the needs of our clients. As a mom she gets the importance of this training and writes articles that help families and workplaces.

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