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First Aid: Heat Exposure

 The brain carries a temperature regulator that keeps the body near a healthy 98°F (37°C). But prolonged exposure to extreme heat may overwhelm this natural thermostat. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk.

Intense heat may cause extra fluid loss through sweating (heat exhaustion). If the body isn’t cooled, sweating eventually stops, but the body’s temperature may keep rising until vital organs start to fail (heat stroke).

Step 1. Lower body temperature

  • Move the victim into shade and sponge with cool water. Cool head, neck, groin, and underarms.

  • Remove extra clothing.

  • Place the victim on his or her back. Raise his or her feet about 12 inches to lower the risk for shock.

  • Don't leave the person alone. Monitor the victim's condition and mental status  every 15 minutes—continue to cool as needed.

Step 2. Give cool liquids

  • Give the victim clear liquids if he or she is alert. Offer cool or room-temperature water. A bottled sports drink is another good choice.

  • Don't offer drinks containing milk, because they may cause nausea.

  • Don't offer drinks with caffeine or alcohol, because these may make dehydration worse.

When to seek medical help

Seek medical help if any of the following is true:

  • The victim is sweating heavily, but the skin feels cool and clammy.

  • The victim feels dizzy, lightheaded, or weak.

Call 911 right away if the victim has any of the following:

  • Skin that feels hot and dry to the touch

  • Drowsiness, disorientation, or loss of consciousness

  • Loss of muscle control or a seizure

While you wait for help:

  • Reassure the person. Don't give anything to drink.

  • Keep the person as cool as possible.

  • Treat for shock or do rescue breathing or CPR, if needed.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2019
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.