Heat Safety Part 2: Treating Heat Illnesses

Overheating can not only ruin your day in the sun, but it can also lead to heat stroke which can do serious damage to your body and be deadly if left untreated. According to the Mayo Clinic, if left untreated, heat stroke can lead to damage to the muscles, brain, kidney and heart or even death.

The first signs of heat illnesses in early stages include shortness of breath, dizziness and heavy sweating. Someone suffering from heat exhaustion will also have a throbbing headache as well as confusion and irritability. Other symptoms include nausea, weak pulse and faintness. If you or anyone you know is exhibiting these signs of heat exhaustion, it is important to act fast to bring their body temperature down to normal levels. Follow these steps and seek medical attention if there is no improvement after an hour.

  • Remove yourself from direct sunlight and heat: Find a shaded area, or somewhere indoors that is air-conditioned to lay down and rest. It is important to remove yourself from direct sunlight.
  • Remove unnecessary clothing or fabric: If you are wearing an extra layer of clothes or clothing made from heavy materials, try removing them while recovering and replacing them with lighter fabric T-shirts and shorts.
  • Make a quick ice pack: Fill a plastic bag with ice cubes or grab an unopened bag of frozen vegetables and apply it to your forehead and your shoulders.
  • Cover yourself in cold water: Fill a tub with cold water or stand in a cold shower. Be sure to cover as much of your body with the cold water, making sure to pat the cold water against your face as well.
  • Use a wet towel to evaporate heat from your body: The Mayo Clinic suggests spraying water on your skin with a mist bottle, and then fanning it away to promote evaporation. This is similar to how sweating cools us down naturally. This can also be achieved by soaking a large towel in cold water and covering your skin with that towel.
  • Drink lots of cold water: You should immediately begin rehydrating. The water will relieve you of fatigue, dizziness, nausea and headache pain while cooling you down from the inside out.

Avoid going back out into direct sunlight or hot conditions for a few hours so your body can rest and fully recover. While most cases can be treated at home, severe heat illnesses like heat stroke require medical attention. Talk with your doctor if you are not feeling well or are concerned about someone else who is exhibiting the signs of a heat illness.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When to absolutely seek immediate medical attention: If your symptoms do not improve within an hour, or start to worsen, seek immediate medical attention. If you stop sweating entirely, or if your body temperature reaches over 104°, it’s likely that you’re suffering from heat stroke, a potentially deadly condition if not treated immediately.