Emergency First Aid for Heatstroke

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Topic Overview

Heatstroke occurs when the body fails to regulate its own temperature and body temperature continues to rise, often to 104°F (40°C) or higher. Signs of rapidly progressing heatstroke include:

  • Unconsciousness for longer than a few seconds.
  • Convulsion (seizure).
  • Signs of moderate to severe difficulty breathing.
  • A rectal temperature over 104°F (40°C) after exposure to a hot environment.
  • Confusion, severe restlessness, or anxiety.
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Sweating that may be heavy or may have stopped.
  • Skin that may be red, hot, and dry, even in the armpits.
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Even with immediate treatment, it can be life-threatening or result in serious, long-term complications. After calling 911 or other emergency medical services, follow these first aid steps.

  • Move the person into a cool place, out of direct sunlight.
  • Remove the person's unnecessary clothing, and place the person on his or her side to expose as much skin surface to the air as possible.
  • Cool the person's entire body by sponging or spraying cold water, and fan the person to help lower the person's body temperature. Watch for signs of rapidly progressing heatstroke, such as seizure, unconsciousness for longer than a few seconds, and moderate to severe difficulty breathing.
  • Apply ice packs over as much of the body as you can.
  • Check the person's rectal temperature and try to reduce it to 102°F (39°C) or lower as soon as possible. The longer the body is at a high temperature, the more serious the illness and the more likely it is that complications will develop. Temperatures taken by mouth or in the ear are not accurate in this emergency situation.
  • If a child has stopped breathing, begin rescue breathing.
  • Do not give aspirin or acetaminophen to reduce a high body temperature that can occur with heatstroke. These medicines may cause problems because of the body's response to heatstroke.
  • If the person is awake and alert enough to swallow, give the person fluids [32 fl oz (1 L) to 64 fl oz (2 L) over 1 to 2 hours] for hydration. Most people with heatstroke have an altered level of consciousness and cannot safely be given fluids to drink. You may have to help. Make sure the person is sitting up enough so that he or she does not choke.

Related Information

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

Current as ofAugust 5, 2014