By Randy Charles
the Times 

Home Emergency Care

Topic of the Month: heat disorders


When a medical emergency occurs the City of Waitsburg and its surrounding homes and farms face challenges, as do all rural areas, in EMS response times and transport times to an emergency room. This monthly column, written by former firefighter and paramedic Randy Charles, is aimed at providing area residents, who are faced with a medical or traumatic event, some kind of knowledge and skills that can be utilized to help a stricken individual while waiting for EMS.


Summer heat is here. In addition to avoiding rattle snakes (last month’s column) avoiding heat illness (overheating our core body temperature) is another great goal to have over the next several months. “Hyperthermia” is when our body has an unusually high body temperature (of course the opposite is “Hypothermia” which we can experience during the winter months).


When our body heats up it compensates by sweating and vasodilation (widening of our blood vessels) which allows blood flow to increase to the surface of our body to allow for the heat to be dissipated through the skin. When this happens, we will notice:


Flushing (reddish color to the skin)

Increased Skin Temperature


When the body’s mechanisms are inadequate to cope with the heat a number of “heat illnesses” may occur, depending on the severity of the hyperthermia. These include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Both heat cramps and heat exhaustion are the result of dehydration and inadequate levels of electrolytes (sodium, etc).


Cramps can occur in the fingers, arms, legs and/or abdomen. Typically, the individual will be mentally alert but may feel faint, weak or dizzy. The skin is moist and warm.


Move individual to a cool (cooler) environment.

Consume water and/or diluted sports drink (50/50 is a good ratio).

Apply a moist towel to forehead or cramped muscles may help


Heat exhaustion is considered a minor heat illness but can be the precursor and, if left untreated, can turn to heat stroke which is a serious medical emergency. A person experiencing heat exhaustion may experience:

Increased body temperature (over 100 degree F)

Cool and clammy (due to sweat) skin

Breathing that is rapid and shallow


Muscle cramps

Feeling of weakness up to and including loss of consciousness




Move individual to a cooler environment.

Consume water and/or diluted sports drink (50/50 again is a good ratio).

Lay person down on their back with knees elevated

Remove some clothing and fan individual

Call 911 or take person to the hospital if they do not respond to treatment or have lost consciousness at any point.


Heat stroke is a true emergency, it requires immediate treatment and hospital care.

An individual with heat stroke usually has a body temperature of over 105 degrees F and a loss of the ability to regulate the increasing temperatures, a person will no longer be sweating. This can cause cell death and damage to the brain, liver and kidneys.

A person in this condition will have:

Cessation of sweating

Hot skin, either dry or moist (sweat is from earlier exertions prior to heat stroke.

Very high body temperature.

Breathing that is deep but becomes shallow and rapid…later slowing down.

Confusion or disorientation or unconsciousness.

Possible seizures.


CALL 911 immediately

Move individual to a cooler environment (air conditioned room if possible).

Actively cool the person by removing clothing and cover with wet (cool but not cold) sheets and fan the individual. DO NOT use ice or cold-water immersion.

Provide water if the person is conscious and able to drink.

Do not provide salt tablets


The easiest way to treat heat related problems is avoiding them!

Stay hydrated (a person working in a hot environment can lose 1-2 liters per hour), drink before you feel thirsty.

Allow time for acclimation to being out in the heat

Be aware that children and elderly are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.

Be aware that certain medications (diuretics or “water pills,” beta blockers and antihistamines) make a person less tolerant to heat.

Be aware of your own signs and symptoms of getting overheated as well as monitoring other persons you are with. Treat any problems early…. drink (water and diluted sports drinks) early and often.


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