Who is at risk?
People who work or exercise outdoors or indoors where the temperature is poorly regulated, elderly people, young children, people with health problems, a respiratory or cardiovascular disease or poor circulation, people who take medications to eliminate water from the body, and people who have a history of heat or cold-related illness in the past are at risk for heat or cold-related illnesses.
Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the three conditions caused by overexposure to heat. Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms. They result from a combination of fluid and salt loss caused by heavy sweating. Heat cramps usually occur after strenuous exercise or work outdoors in warm temperatures. They tend to occur in the legs and the abdomen. They are an indication of a more severe problem to come if proper care is not given shortly.
Care for Heat Cramps
Have the victim rest comfortably in a cool place, and provide him or her with cool water or a sports drink. Stretch the muscle gently and massage the area. Once the cramps stop, the victim may resume physical activity, but he or she should be sure to drink plenty of fluids during and after activity.
Heat exhaustion, the most common heat-related illness, typically occurs after strenuous exercise or work in a hot environment. The victim loses fluid through sweating, and blood flow to the skin increases, thus reducing blood flow to the vital organs. The victim therefore goes into mild shock. Symptoms of heat exhaustion are: normal or below normal body temperature; pale, moist, cool skin; headache; nausea; dizziness; weakness; and exhaustion. If heat exhaustion is allowed to progress, the victim's condition will worsen until he or she has heat stroke.
Heat stroke, the least common heat-related illness, occurs when heat exhaustion symptoms are ignored. The body systems become overwhelmed by heat. Sweating stops, and the body can no longer cool itself. Body temperature rises rapidly, and the brain and other vital organs will begin to fail. Convulsions, coma and death may result. Signs of heat stroke are: high body temperature; hot, red, dry skin; progressive loss of consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing.
Care for Heat-Related Illnesses
Call EMS immediately if the victim's condition is so bad you suspect heat stroke. If heat-related illness is recognized in the early stages, it can usually be reversed. Move the victim to a cool area and give him or her cool water to drink. Remove any tight or heavy clothing and cool the body however you can; apply cool, wet cloths to the skin, fan the victim, or place ice packs on the victim's wrists and ankles, in each armpit and on the neck in order to cool the large blood vessels. DO NOT apply rubbing alcohol-it prevents heat loss. Do not let the victim drink too much too quickly-4 ounces every 15 minutes is good. If the victim vomits, stop giving fluids and position the victim on his or her side, keep the airway clear and moniter breathing and pulse. Keep the victim lying down, and continue cooling the body until EMS arrives.
Frostbite is the freezing of body tissues. It usually occurs in exposed areas of the body, affecting superficial or deep tissues. Frostbite is quite serious. The water in and between the body's cells freezes and swells, damaging or destroying the cells. Frostbite often results in the loss of fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet, and legs. Symptoms of frostbite are: lack of feeling in the area, a waxy appearanceto the skin, skin that is cold to the touch, and skin that is discolored(flushed, white, yellow or blue).
Care for Frostbite
Handle the area very gently, and DO NOT rub the affected area. Warm the area by soaking it in water no warmer than 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit, using a thermometer to check the water temperature if possible. DO NOT let the affected body part touch the bottom or sides of the container holding the water. Leave the frostbitten area in the water until it is red and feels warm. Bandage the area with a dry, sterile dressing, placing cotton or gauze between frostbitten fingers or toes. Avoiud breaking any blisters, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
When hypothermia occurs, the entire body cools because its warming mechanisms fail. If proper care is not promptly administered, the victim will die. Body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit in hypothermia, the heartbeat becomes erratic and finally stops, and the vistim dies. Symptoms of hypothermia are: shivering; a slow, irregular pulse; numbness; a glassy stare; and apathy along with decreasing levels of consciousness. People can develop hypothermia even when the temperature is only moderately cold. Elderly people in poorly heated homes, homeless or ill people, or people with certain medical conditions are more susceptible to hypothermia. Anyone submerged in cold water or remaining in wet clothes for a prolonged period of time may develop hypothermia quite easily.
Care for Hypothermia
If you suspect a victim may have hypothermia, call EMS immediately. Care for any life-threatening problems. Remove any wet clothing, dry the victim, and warm the body gradually by wrapping the victim in blankets. Move the victim to a warm place. You can use hot water bottles or heating pads to help rewarm the body, but be sure to put a barrier, like a blanket, towel or clothing, between the heat source and the victim to keep from burning him or her. DO NOT warm the victim too quiuckly, and DO NOT immerse the victim in warm water. Handle the victim very gently. In cases of severe hypothermia, the victim may be unconscious. Monitor the victim's breathing and pulse until EMS arrives.