CPR First Aid

Heatstroke – What is it?

Heatstroke – What is it

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke signs and what to doDuring the warmer months of the year, particularly in Australia’s scorching heat, it’s important to be aware of the first aid treatment for Heatstroke, and possible ways to prevent it.

Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition in which the body overheats when it can no longer maintain a healthy temperature. You can avoid heatstroke by taking precautions in very hot weather.

Heatstroke occurs when a person’s body temperature rises from about 37°C to above 40.5°C. It is sometimes called hyperthermia (not hypothermia, which occurs when the body’s temperature drops significantly due to prolonged exposure to extreme cold).

Heatstroke needs immediate first aid to lower the body temperature as quickly as possible. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are milder types of heat-related illnesses.

Illustration of the Symptoms of Heatstroke

Symptoms of Heatstroke

The signs and symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • rapid pulse and fast, shallow breathing
  • trouble speaking, slurred speech
  • problems concentrating or coordinating movements
  • aggressive or strange behaviour
  • dizziness, confusion, seizures or loss of consciousness
  • sudden rise in body temperature
  • hot and dry and possibly red skin, possibly with no sweat
  • dry, swollen tongue
  • headache, nausea or vomiting
  • intense thirst
  • the casualty may also fall unconscious

Causes of Heatstroke

Heatstroke is caused by prolonged exposure to heat. You can get heatstroke inside or outside, including by exercising in the heat.

You are more likely than others to get heatstroke if you are:

  • over 75 or very young
  • pregnant or breastfeeding
  • overweight
  • working or exercising in hot conditions
  • affected by chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes
  • taking certain medications

Treating heatstroke: A step-by-step guide

Treating Heatstroke

    1. Follow DRS ABCD
    2. Call 000 – Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If someone has heatstroke call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance
    3. Remove from the heat source – remove the casualty from exposure to extreme heat to a shadier and/or cooler place
    4. Follow the steps for Lowering Body Temperature
    5. If unconscious place them in the recovery position – for unconscious casualties, place them on their side with their mouth down (to drain any fluid) and the chin up to prevent possible suffocation.If conscious, give the person sips of cool fluid if possible.
      Do not give aspirin or paracetamol to someone with heatstroke, this may make things worse.

Lowering Body Temperature:

  • removing excess clothing
  • sponging or spraying them with water and fanning the damp skin
  • immersing them in cool water
  • placing cold packs under their armpits or groin, or on the back of their neck

Heatstroke prevention measures illustrated in an infographic

Preventing Heatstroke

Heatstroke is linked to dehydration, so in hot conditions:

  • Drink plenty of water – even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid hot or sugary drinks.
  • Keep cool – try to avoid direct sun. Wear a hat and lightweight, loose-fitting, cotton clothing.
  • Keep your house cool – close windows, shut curtains and blinds, and use air-conditioning if you have it.
  • Help others – visit or phone friends, family and neighbours who are more at risk. Keep children cool and give them lots to drink. Ensure pets have plenty of water and shade.
  • Have a plan – know who to call if you need help, and follow your doctor’s advice if you have any medical conditions.
  • Never leave babies, children or animals alone in a car.

Complications of Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a potentially life-threatening condition. The high body temperature in heatstroke can lead to organ damage and can cause existing conditions to worsen. In extreme cases, heatstroke can lead to death.

Learn about other first aid topics such as this in our nationally recognised First Aid course, recommended for anyone 14 years and older.

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