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How do I give first aid for heat exhaustion?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

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.

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.

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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.