Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when your body temperature climbs to 104 F (40 C) or more, and it requires immediate medical attention. Heat stroke most commonly occurs when someone participates in extended amounts of physical activity in an excessively warm environment. Some of the common symptoms included nausea, vomiting, rapid heart rate or breathing, headache, delirium, and loss of consciousness. If left untreated, heat stroke can cause damage to the brain, heart, and other organs, or even be fatal. If you notice someone suffering from these symptoms, it is important to take quick actions to lower their body temperature.
The first step you should take to treat someone suffering from heat stroke is to reduce external temperatures. This means taking them to an air-conditioned indoor location. If no air conditioning is available, try to make them as comfortable as possible. Move into a shaded, cool area, and use fans to create a cool breeze. This is a good time to make the person as comfortable as possible, encouraging them to lie down on a soft surface to prevent injuries caused by falls or seizures. The most important goal here is to get the person out of the sun and heat as quickly as possible.
Another important early step to treat heat stroke is to call 911 right away. Heat stroke can be fatal, but even in cases where patients survive heat stroke, there can sometimes be severe consequences. These include kidney failure, heart failure, and permanent brain damage. Muscle damage is also possible. Most of these consequences become irreversible if left untreated for too long, so always seek medical help rather than waiting to see if the person gets better on their own. Medical personnel often have better tools for cooling patients and reducing temperatures, as well as drugs that can treat secondary symptoms like shivering or seizures.
One of the most common causes of heat stroke is overexertion in hot weather. This means that people experiencing heat stroke are often fully clothed. Removing as many layers of clothes as possible is a good way to reduce body temperature and cool down a patient. Any excess outer layers of clothes should be removed immediately, such as sweatshirts, hats, sweatbands, and shoes. If necessary, primary clothes like shirts and pants can be removed as well. This is especially true if the person is wearing tight-fitting or restrictive clothing, which may hold in heat and exacerbate the condition.
Immerse in Cool Water
One of the best ways to cool off a person suffering from heat stroke is to immerse them in cool water. This is best done by filling a bathtub with cool water and helping them into the tub. A cool shower can also be beneficial, although there is a risk of falls, so this should only be done if the person is extremely lucid. If there is no tub or shower at your location, cool water found in pools, streams, and ponds can also work. All of these sources will help to immediately reduce body temperature and cool off the person’s core.
Immerse in Ice Water
Cool water is effective, but ice and ice water are even more effective. Immersing someone in an ice bath is a good way to instantly cool them down, reducing the risk of serious long-term damage. However, ice baths can be startling to the body, so it is important to only utilize this method on young, healthy individuals. Elderly adults, children, and those with preexisting health conditions can be at risk for sudden heart problems if subjected to such a drastic temperature change. In these cases, cool water is the only safe option. For healthy adults, however, an ice water bath can be life-saving.
Immersing someone in water or ice is not always possible, but luckily, there are other water-based methods of reducing body temperature. One of these is the evaporation technique. There are two primary ways to do this. First, soak a sheet in cold water and lay it over the person suffering from heat stroke. Then, point a fan directly at the person. The second method is similar, except instead of damp sheets, you should spray the person with cold water while pointing a fan at them. In both cases, evaporation of the water caused by the air from the fan will help to reduce body temperature.
Although drinking water is a good way to cool down, you should wait until trained medical help has arrived before moving on to this step. Some physicians may restrict how much you should drink based on the damage the heat stroke has caused to your body, so it is important to follow their guidelines. In general, staying hydrated can help to prevent heat stroke, so if you notice any of the early symptoms or begin to feel overheated, cool down with electrolyte-packed sports drinks or cool water as soon as possible. If heat stroke has already occurred, emergency personnel can help you to rehydrate.
Use Ice Packs
Both people around you and emergency medical personnel may use ice packs to treat heat stroke. This means applying ice packs or cold compresses all around your body, in an attempt to reduce body temperature. To expedite cooling, ice packs should first be focused on areas of the body that are packed with blood vessels, like the neck, back, armpits, and groin. These areas will cool quickly, then circulate the cooler blood to the rest of the body. They are also close to vital organs, like the brain, heart, and kidneys, which are at high risk during heat stroke.
One of the treatments that emergency medical personnel may try is to give you muscle relaxers that are meant to reduce shivering. In many instances, the body will begin to shiver when cooling treatments are used, even if you are still too hot internally. Shivering increases body temperature, so it is important to stop this for the cooling treatments to be effective. Not all patients will need to be prescribed medications, but this is one of the more common treatments given in serious cases of heat stroke.
In extreme cases of heat stroke, it may be necessary for bystanders to start CPR while waiting on emergency personnel to arrive. Beginning CPR can reduce long-term damage caused by heat stroke, and may prevent fatalities. You should only perform CPR if you know how. Many community organizations, including the Red Cross, offer CPR certification classes that can prepare you for this kind of experience. It is a good idea to be prepared by taking one of these classes, since knowing how to properly do CPR can help you to save someone’s life. If you start CPR, you should continue until medical personnel arrives at the scene to take over.