Surviving Outdoors: 3 of the Most Common Heat Related Injuries

by Jeremiah Johnson, Ready Nutrition

[Editor’s Note: Heat-related illnesses come on rather quickly and are considered the #1 cause of weather-related deaths in the United States. Although this type of death is preventable, many who are unprepared succumb to extreme heat every year. Understanding the signs and symptoms of these type of medical emergencies, as well as having certain preparations in order will minimize heat-related illnesses.]

Since spring has sprung, and summer is in full tilt, it would appear that summertime has the greatest chance to lay a person low with a heat injury.  Let’s explore the types and the response to it, shall we?

The types of heat-related injuries are: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.  Their signs and symptoms are as follows, along with the actions to be taken:

  1. Heat Cramps:  Cramping in the extremities (arms and legs), abdominal (stomach) cramps, and excessive sweating.

Actions to be taken:  Monitor the patient’s status (ask simple questions such as “What is your name?” or “Do you know where you are?”  Move the patient to a cool, shady area.  If one is not there naturally, then provide one.  You can do this by stretching out a blanket at the four corners and tying them off on trees, etc., to provide shade.  Loosen the patient’s clothing to enable the escape of heat and air circulation.  Have them slowly drink at least a quart of water, and monitor them.  Seek immediate medical attention if the cramps persist.

  1. Heat Exhaustion:  profuse sweating with pale, moist, cool skin, headache, weakness, dizziness, loss of appetite, cramping, nausea (with or without vomiting), urge to defecate, chills (gooseflesh), rapid breathing, tingling of the hands and/or feet, and confusion (not answering easy questions correctly).

Actions to be taken:  Monitor the patient mental status/simple questions.  Move the patient to a cool, shady area or provide shade (as mentioned above).  Loosen the clothing.  Then pour water on the patient and/or fan him/her.  Another thing that can be done (especially in the woods/a field environment) is take a t-shirt or (if it’s available) a sheet, soak it with cool water, and apply this directly to the patient’s skin.  The colder the water the better.  This will have an extremely rapid effect of bringing the patient’s core body temperature down.  Next have the patient slowly drink at least one quart of water.  Monitor the patient until either the symptoms have left or until you can bring him/her to receive medical attention/emergency first responders arrive.  The patient (even if the symptoms disappear) should not partake of any strenuous physical activity of any kind for at least the rest of the day.  Monitor the patient for signs and symptoms of heatstroke!

 Warning!  This last condition (heat injury) is a medical emergency that may result in the patient’s death if there is any delay in first aid and/or definitive treatment!

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