Treating Heat Exhaustion

Written by April Reinhardt (last updated September 5, 2008)

Oftentimes heat exhaustion is confused with heat stroke, and the two terms may be used interchangeably. Although there is differing opinion in the medical community as to how to discern between the two conditions, they mostly agree on these simple differences:

  • Heat stroke victims' skin will feel dry and their body temperature may rise to 105° Fahrenheit or higher.
  • Heat exhaustion results in clammy skin, profuse sweating, dizziness, and nausea, with near normal body temperatures.

A serious condition that can lead to a potentially fatal heat stroke, heat exhaustion requires immediate treatment. Some of the signs that someone may be suffering from heat exhaustion include:

  • Profuse sweating.
  • Pale or ashen appearance.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Lightheaded, dizzy, or faint.
  • Normal body temperature in the presence of sweating and a heated body core.
  • Vomiting.

Since heat exhaustion can be a life-threatening condition, call 911 or take the victim to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible. You can treat heat exhaustion while waiting for emergency medical help by lowering body temperature. Move the victim indoors to an air conditioned room, or into the shade outside. Other cooling methods include:

  • Apply cold compresses to the groin, head, torso, and neck.
  • Situate the victim in front of a fan. The moving air will evaporate the sweat and cool the body.
  • Bathe the victim in cool water, but do not wrap him in wet blankets or towels, as they may hold heat in.
  • Immerse the person into a bathtub of cold water, but monitor vital signs carefully.

To prevent heat exhaustion, use sunscreen and limit outdoor activities in hot and humid weather. Wear light-colored clothing to reflect heat, loose fitting clothes, and natural fibered clothing such as cotton, which is cooler than synthetic blends. In weather related heat emergencies, if you do not have home air conditioning, seek air conditioned environments such as movie theaters, libraries, shopping malls, or shelters.

Make sure the prescriptions you take do not have sunlight warnings and, if they do, avoid sun and heat. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, but avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages since they tend to dehydrate. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink fluids. Never leave pets or children in a parked car. Even with the windows rolled down, temperatures inside of a car in the sun can rise to dangerous levels.

If a victim of heat exhaustion does not show a marked improvement after drinking fluids or cooling down, seek emergency medical treatment without delay.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...


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