How do I give first aid for heat exhaustion?

To begin first aid for someone suffering from heat exhaustion, as soon as you can, cool the person down. You can immerse them in ice water or wrap them in cool towels. If you just have cool running water, take off any of the equipment and clothing that they may have on. Take off as much as you can because you really want the cold water to get directly on their skin to aid with evaporation and bring down their core temperature as quickly as possible.

If you have ice buckets, you can throw ice on them. If you have cold water, a shower, get them in a cold shower. This is something that you can do before paramedics or additional medical support arrives because the longer that a person is in heat stroke, the more it can affect the body's function and organs–from altering the brain's electromagnetic fields to kidney function where a person can have acute renal deficiencies because of the massive amounts of dehydration.

Young athletes working out in the heat can get rhabdomyolysis, which is a breakdown of muscle. That can also potentiate kidney failure. So, you want to stop the high heat temperatures as soon as possible as quickly as possible. You don't need to wait for medical help to arrive if you have the resources to do that ahead of time.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

Treating heat exhaustion begins with spotting symptoms early. At the first signs of heat cramps, you should stop what you're doing and drink a sports beverage or clear juice to hydrate. Also, you should wait at least three hours after cramps have ended to get back to your activity. If cramps don't go away, it's a good idea to seek medical attention.

If you experience the symptoms of heat exhaustion—headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, dark urine and skin that is cool and moist—you should rest, drink a cold beverage or even take a cool bath or shower. Getting into an air-conditioned environment and lightweight clothing may also help get body temperatures back to normal.

If your symptoms progress to those of heat stroke—a fever higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, strange behavior, confusion, rapid and shallow breath, a fast and weak pulse, seizure, unconsciousness and skin that turns dry, hot and red—someone should call for medical assistance. Anyone with heat stroke should be placed in a shady or cool area and cooled with water, which can be done with spray from a hose, a sponge soaked in cold water or misting fans. Body temperature should be monitored until it drops to 101 degrees. Avoid giving a person with heat stroke fluids to drink if they appear unconscious or are vomiting.

Dr. Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

Heat exhaustion often requires immediate medical attention. Find out what to do for someone who develops heat exhaustion by watching this video, which features emergency medicine specialist Dr. Leigh Vinocur.

First, move the patient from the heat and into shade or an air-conditioned area. Remove any excess clothing. Have the patient lie down and raise her legs above the level of her head. Rehydrate with chilled water or sports drinks if the patient can drink and hold down the fluid.

Anything that will lower the patient’s temperature can and should be used, such as running cool water over the patient or applying ice packs.

If the patient does not improve rapidly, then she should be transported to an ER for further evaluation.

Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

The following are first aid treatment guidelines for heat exhaustion:

  • Remove victim from heat.
  • Sponge or spray with cool water. Fan victim. Stop if victim develops goose bumps or shivers.
  • If victim is conscious and can take fluids, have victim drink 16 oz/0.5 L every 30 minutes of electrolyte/carbohydrate mixture, juice or milk until recovered.
  • Get medical attention if person doesn't continually improve.
  • Do not ignore symptoms. If untreated, heat-related illnesses get worse.
  • Do not give victim any stimulant, including alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Do not apply ice directly to skin.
  • Do not allow victim when cooling to become so cold that he or she shivers.
  • Do not leave victim alone.
  • Do not use rubbing alcohol or anything other than water on the victim's skin.
Doc's First Aid Guide: Read It Before You Need It

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Doc's First Aid Guide: Read It Before You Need It

In a medical emergency, time is of the essence. "Doc's First Aid Guide" is an illustrated, first-aid pocket handbook designed to be used as a quick reference and includes the latest CPR guidelines....

Start by getting the person out of the heat—into air conditioning, if possible, or at least into shade. Elevate the legs and remove any tight clothing. Give them water or another cold drink that doesn't contain caffeine, and fan them or sponge them with cold water. If symptoms persist or get worse, or the individual is vomiting, seek medical attention as IV fluids may be needed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.