Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition because the body’s temperature can rise far above normal to the point where it stops sweating. The body essentially loses its ability to control temperature, and, if left untreated, it can damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. Heat stroke usually results from prolonged exposure to a hot, humid, and perhaps poorly ventilated environment. The longer the delay in getting treatment, the higher the risk. Those more likely to suffer from heat stroke are the elderly, and people with poor health, and infants or small children.
The second form of heat stroke, known as exertional heat stroke, sees the body temperature rise rapidly due to heavy physical exertion in high temperatures, even though sweating continues. This definition will become important when recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke.
Signs & symptoms of heat stroke
As the temperature rises, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stroke; not to be confused with a fever.
- Body temperature rapidly rises to 40°C or higher – the person is distinctly hot to the touch
- The pulse is rapid and full but gets weaker in later stages
- Breathing may be noisy
- Skin is hot and dry in classic heat stroke and flushed. In exertional heat stroke, the skin is hot and sweaty.
- Casualty is restless and may complain of a headache, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea
- Vomiting, convulsions, or unconsciousness
Heat stroke can also be easily confused with heat exhaustion. Just remember, in heat stroke, the skin is hot and flushed and may be dry or wet. Heat exhaustion occurs when someone is exposed to high temperatures which prompt excessive sweating, which leads to salt and water depletion within the body.
First aid for heat stroke
Lowering body temperature is the first and most urgent first aid for heat stroke. The person’s life may well depend on how quickly this can be done.
Move them to a cool, shaded place.
Begin cooling the person. Remove outer clothing and cover them with wet sheets and fan the sheets to increase cooling.
Place ice packs covered in tea towels (or similar) on the armpits, neck, and groin areas.
When their body feels cool to the touch, cover them with a dry sheet. Monitor them closely. If their temperature begins to rise again, repeat the cooling process. (a) If they are conscious, place them in a supine position (on their back) with both legs elevated.(b) If they are unconscious, move them into the recovery position (see below).
Provide the person with water or drinks (preferably isotonic sports drinks that contain electrolytes). Do not attempt to provide any form of solid food.
Continue to provide ongoing care until medical help arrives.
Taking the heat out of the situation
If you’re planning on enjoying the outdoors during warmer weather, there are some steps you can take to avoid heat stroke.
St John Ambulance (Qld) first aid for heat stroke response
St John Ambulance (Qld) provides a range of First Aid training programs, and they include skills for responding to someone suffering from heat stroke. With multiple locations across Queensland, as well as some courses found online, St John Ambulance (Qld) can help equip you with the skills to respond to a medical emergency confidently.
When can I take St John Ambulance (Qld) first aid training to learn more about helping someone with heat stroke?
Our First Aid training programs are offered year-round. Please visit www.stjohnqld.com.au/Training to find the next available first aid training session in your area.
How do I register for St John Ambulance (Qld) first aid training, including skills for responding to heat stroke?
We offer First Aid training courses right across Queensland. Please visit www.stjohnqld.com.au/Training to find the next available first aid training session in your area.
How can I speak to someone at St John Ambulance (Qld) if I have questions or want to find out more?
Please call 1300 ST JOHN (1300 78 5646) Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.
For further information:
Name: Ms Paula Price
Title: General Manager – Marketing and Business Services
Organisation: St John Ambulance Australia Queensland Limited
Telephone: 0417 785 228