Heatstroke – This condition is caused by a failure in the thermostat in the brain. This regulates the body temperature. The body then becomes dangerously overheated usually due to a high fever or prolonged exposure to heat.
Heatstroke can also result from the use of drugs such as ecstasy.
In some cases heatstroke follows heat exhaustion when sweating ceases and the body then cannot be cooled by the evaporation of sweat. Heatstroke can develop with very little warning, causing unconsciousness within minutes of the casualty feeling unwell.
Young children, older adults, people who are obese and people born with an impaired ability to sweat are at high risk of heatstroke. Other risk factors include dehydration, alcohol use, cardiovascular disease and certain medications.
Causes of Heatstroke
- Cooling mechanism of the body fails due to
a. Excessive humidity
b. Extreme heat
c. Activity in the hot sun
- Internal body temperature rises, leading to stroke
- Infants & older people
- People who work long hours, outdoor
- Impairment in sweat gland function
The symptoms of heat exhaustion can develop rapidly. They include:
- Very hot skin that feels ‘flushed’
- Heavy sweating
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Feeling sick (nausea)
- Being sick (vomiting)
- A rapid heartbeat
- Mental confusion
- Urinating less often and much darker urine than usual
A person with heat exhaustion should be moved quickly to somewhere cool and given fluids (preferably water) to drink. They should then begin to feel better within half an hour.
However, certain groups are more at risk of developing heatstroke or suffering complications from dehydration, and should be taken to hospital.
- Children under two years old
- Very elderly people
- People with kidney, heart or circulation problems
- People with diabetes who use insulin
First aid for Heatstroke
Always call an ambulance in cases of suspected heatstroke. While you’re waiting for the ambulance to arrive you should do the following:
- Move the person to a cool area as quickly as possible.
- Increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan.
- If they’re conscious, give them water to drink but don’t give them medication, such as aspirin or paracetamol.
- Shower their skin with cool, but not cold, water (15-18°C).
- Alternatively, cover their body with cool, damp towels or sheets, or immerse them in cool but not cold water.
- It’s better to wait for medical supervision before fully immersing them in water, such as in a bath, as the body’s response could cause them harm.
- Gently massage their skin to encourage circulation.
- If they start to have a seizure (fit), move nearby objects out of the way to prevent injury (don’t use force or put anything in their mouth).
- If the person is unconscious and vomiting, move them into the recovery position by turning them on their side and making sure that their airways are clear.
Remember: Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance if you think that you or someone you know has heatstroke.
It’s better to wait for medical supervision before immersing someone fully in water because it could increase their blood pressure significantly (hypertensive response), which could be dangerous for those with cardiovascular disease or those at risk of stroke, such as the elderly.
More information on Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion can be found on the NHS website.
First aid treatment for Heatstroke - GK First Aid Training offer a number of First Aid Courses that deal with the condition of Heatstroke. We offer both the 1 Day Emergency First Aid at Work and the 3 Day First Aid at Work Course. Both of these courses can be delivered directly to you in your workplace. Call us directly on 0800 774 7034 to discuss your requirements.