How To Treat A Heat Stroke

A heat stroke is the most serious kind of heat-related injury and a medical emergency. If you suspect someone has sunstroke or heat stroke, call 911 as soon as possible and administer first aid while waiting for paramedics to arrive. Heat stroke has the potential to damage the brain and other internal organs, and can even be life-threatening. Heat stroke tends to occur in people over fifty, but young individuals can experience it as well. The medical definition of a heat stroke is when a person's core body temperature rises higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes complications to the central nervous system. Other symptoms can occur, including seizures, nausea, disorientation, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Time is of the essence when someone has heat stroke. These are the steps you should take.

Call For Emergency Medical Care


Before doing anything else, dial 911 to call for emergency medical care. If you're close enough to a hospital to rush the person there, you can do that. You cannot have any delays in seeking medical help, as the longer the heat stroke lasts without professional intervention, the higher the chances of permanent brain damage.

If there is a delayed emergency response, call the emergency room to get in-depth instructions on how to treat the person. It's vital they be treated before the heat stroke becomes worse. Those who are hiking or those who live in rural areas may not have access to a fast emergency responding team. For this reason, if you intend to hike outdoors, especially in hot weather, become familiar with basic treatments for heat stroke.

Get Out Of The Sun


While waiting for the emergency response team, initiate first aid procedures. The first step of this is to get out of the sun. If there's any air-conditioned environment around, go there. If you're hiking and stranded on a mountaintop or in the woods, bring the person into the most shaded area you can find.

After you have moved them, take off any unnecessary layers of clothing they're wearing, as clothing traps heat inside the body. Have them lay down. If you have a thermometer, take their core body temperature. Begin first aid procedures to bring the temperature down to 101 or 102 degrees Fahrenheit, as these temperatures are far less likely to cause brain damage. If you don't have a thermometer, begin cooling first aid immediately anyways.

Apply Cool Packs To Key Body Parts


One cooling strategy is to apply cool packs to key body parts. Ice packs and other cold items, like packages of frozen vegetables, can be applied to many areas of the body. The best locations for bringing down temperature are the back, neck, groin, and armpits. These areas all have many blood vessels located just beneath the skin. Cooling the blood circulating through the system helps to cool the body overall faster.

Some individuals cannot tolerate ice, so avoid using an ice treatment on chronically ill patients, young children, seniors and on those whose stroke was not a result of overexercising. In these cases, wet the patient's skin with a garden hose or sponge while fanning air over them. If it is possible, immerse them in a cool bath, but not an ice bath! The only time you would use an ice bath is if the individual is a young, healthy athlete whose head stroke was a result of vigorous exercise.

Something To Drink


If a person is dehydrated, they are at a much higher risk of having a heat stroke. Dehydration might occur due to not drinking enough water, chronic disease, or excessive consumption of alcohol. Chronically ill individuals may overheat more easily than others, depending on their illness and how it affects their body temperature regulation.

You should bring the person something to drink. If you aren't sure of their medical history or potential allergies, water is a good option. Cold water is even better, as this will spread throughout the system to further cool it down. If the person can tolerate electrolytes, athletic drinks with electrolytes might help mitigate the heat stroke symptoms. Stay away from sodas and caffeinated beverages, as these are dehydrating. Fruit juices like orange juice are excellent, but avoid fruit juices with unnecessarily added sugars.

Treat Vomiting And Seizures


Vomiting and seizures are two common complications of heat stroke. If a person is experiencing either of these symptoms, and you haven't yet called 911, now is the time to do so. While you wait for emergency medical care to arrive, start treating vomiting and seizures. You can't do a lot of about vomiting, but try to help the person hydrate. If they're throwing up fluids, have them take very small sips of water or, if possible, chew on ice cubes.

Seizures can be much more severe, especially if you are stranded on a hike. If a person has a seizure, don't panic. First, loosen their clothing around their neck to make sure they don't choke, then roll them onto their side, allowing their airway to remain open. As long as they're in a safe place, you should not move them. Never put anything in their mouth.

Move any sharp objects away from them. Don't hold the person down or otherwise restrain them. Simply wait for the seizure to pass and ask bystanders to stand back. Stay with them until the paramedics arrive. It is important to explain the heat stroke symptoms that have occurred, along with the first aid treatment you provided.


    HealthPrep Staff