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Immediate first aid tips to treat heat stroke

Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body overheats and can no longer cool itself. It's crucial to act quickly if you suspect someone is suffering from heatstroke.

Written By: Rahul Pratyush @29_pratyush New Delhi Updated on: May 29, 2024 12:45 IST
heat stroke
Image Source : ISTOCK Immediate first aid tips to treat heat stroke

As the relentless summer sun beats down across India, the nation grapples with an intense heatwave. Each passing day sees the mercury climbing higher, rendering outdoor activities increasingly daunting and sparking concerns for the health and safety of those exposed to the blistering heat. In such challenging conditions, the threat of heat-related illnesses, notably heat stroke, looms large. A recent incident involving Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan experiencing a heat stroke in Ahmedabad after attending his team KKR's match during the ongoing IPL serves as a stark reminder that no one is immune to the risks posed by extreme heat. This event underscores the importance of taking precautions seriously, as heatstroke can affect anyone if preventive measures are not heeded.

What is a heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency that occurs when the body's temperature regulation system fails to cope with excessive heat, leading to a dangerous rise in core body temperature. In India, where temperatures often soar to unbearable levels during the summer months, the risk of heat stroke is particularly high. However, armed with knowledge of immediate first aid measures, individuals can play a crucial role in preventing serious complications and saving lives.

Causes of exertional and non-exertional heat strokes

When we spoke to Dr Sri Karan Uddesh Tanugula, Consultant General Physician, Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad, he said, exertional heat stroke (EHS) occurs during physical activity in warm or hot environments, though it may also occur in persons with impaired heat dissipation in cool environments.

In comparison, non-exertional heat stroke (NEHS), which is equally emergent, occurs during extreme heat events (heat waves) without physical exertion, in particular in susceptible persons who lack normal thermoregulation, such as the elderly, children and infants. When left untreated, both EHS and NEHS may result in significant morbidity, a special circumstance of cardiac arrest and mortality. However, such outcomes may be preventable.

Heatstroke symptoms include:

  • A fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) or greater
  • Changes in mental status or behaviour, such as confusion, agitation and slurred speech
  • Hot, dry skin or heavy sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Rapid breathing
  • Headache
  • Fainting
  • Seizure
  • Coma

For heatstroke, cool the person through whatever means available. For example:

Put the person in a cool tub of water or a cool shower.

Spray the person with a garden hose.
Sponge the person with cool water.
Fan the person while misting with cool water.
Place ice packs or cool, wet towels on the neck, armpits and groin.
Cover the person with cool, damp sheets.
If the person is conscious, offer chilled water, a sports drink containing electrolytes or another nonalcoholic beverage without caffeine.
Begin CPR if the person loses consciousness and shows no signs of circulation, such as breathing, coughing or movement.

Other tips for treating heat stroke


Remove excess clothing:

Help the affected person remove any excess clothing to aid heat dissipation. Loosen tight clothing and remove any unnecessary layers. This allows the body to cool down more effectively.


Offer the person cool water to drink, but do not force them to drink if they are unconscious or unable to swallow. Hydration helps in lowering body temperature and preventing dehydration, which can worsen the condition.

Cooling measures:

Use whatever means available to cool the person down rapidly. Some effective cooling measures include:

  • Apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin, particularly to areas with high blood flow such as the neck, armpits, and groin.
  • Using a fan to increase air circulation and aid in evaporative cooling.
  • Spraying or sponging the person with cool water.
  • Immersing them in a cool bath or shower if possible, or applying ice packs to the armpits, groin, neck, and back.

Monitor vital signs:

While administering first aid, continue to monitor the person's vital signs such as body temperature, pulse rate, and level of consciousness. 

Seek medical help:

Even if the person starts to feel better after initial first aid measures, it is essential to seek medical help promptly. Heat stroke can cause damage to internal organs and lead to complications such as kidney failure, brain damage, or even death if left untreated.

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