Don't Be a Fool, Stay Cool!

How to recognize and treat heat stroke.
HEAT STROKE is a life-threatening condition that usually occurs by ignoring the signals of heat exhaustion.

Here’s another hot weather topic that bears close scrutiny: how to distinguish between heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and how to respond to each condition when it occurs. As I already mentioned in a previous column, excessive heat causes more deaths in the United States each year than any other weather-related event, including floods. Now that temperatures are regularly climbing into the upper 80’s and above, make sure you understand a few basic facts about heat-related illnesses and how important it is to seek immediate medical care if you suspect that someone is suffering from heat stroke.

HEAT CRAMPS are muscular pains and spasms that usually occur in the legs or abdomen. Heat cramps are often an early sign that the body is having trouble with the heat.

Here’s what you do:

  • Get the afflicted person to a cooler place and have him or her rest in a comfortable position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and gently massage the area.
  • Give an electrolyte-containing fluid, such as a commercial sports drink, fruit juice or milk. Water may also be given. Do not give the person salt tablets.
  • HEAT EXHAUSTION is a more severe condition than heat cramps. Heat exhaustion often affects athletes, firefighters, construction workers and factory workers. It also affects those wearing heavy clothing in a hot, humid environment. Signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale, ashen or flushed skin; headache; nausea; dizziness; weakness; and exhaustion.

    Here’s what you do:

  • Move a person with heat exhaustion to a cooler environment with circulating air.
  • Remove or loosen as much clothing as possible and apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. Fanning or spraying the person with water also can help.
  • If the victim is conscious, give small amounts of a cool fluid such as a commercial sports drink or fruit juice to restore fluids and electrolytes. Milk or water may also be given. Give about 4 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes.
  • If the person’s condition does not improve or if he or she refuses water, has a change in consciousness, or vomits, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
  • HEAT STROKE is a life-threatening condition that usually occurs by ignoring the signals of heat exhaustion. Heat stroke develops when the body systems are overwhelmed by heat and begin to stop functioning. Signs of heat stroke include extremely high body temperature, red skin which may be dry or moist; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; rapid, shallow breathing; confusion; vomiting; and seizures. Heat stroke is life-threatening.

    Here’s what you do:

  • Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
  • Preferred method: Rapidly cool the body by immersing the afflicted person up to the neck in cold water (if possible) OR douse or spray the person with cold water.
  • Sponge the person with ice water-doused towels over the entire body, frequently rotating the cold, wet towels.
  • Cover the person with bags of ice.
  • If you are not able to measure and monitor the person’s temperature, apply rapid cooling methods for 20 minutes or until the person’s condition improves.
  • For more information on how to cope with heat-related illnesses, go to or download the free Red Cross First Aid app at