Heat and Cold Emergencies


Heat related emergencies are progressive conditions caused by overexposure to heat. Most incidents can be reversed but if left untreated, can escalate to a life-threatening condition. Heat emergencies are placed into 3 progressive categories:
Heat cramps are muscle spasms that result from loss of large amount of salt and water through exercise. Heat cramps are associated with cramping in the abdomen, arms and calves. This can be caused by inadequate consumption of fluids or electrolytes. Frequently, they don’t occur until sometime later, especially at night or when relaxing. Heavy sweating causes heat cramps, especially when the water is replaced without also replacing salt or potassium. Although heat cramps can be quite painful, they usually don’t result in permanent damage. In order to prevent them, one may drink electrolyte solutions such as sport drinks during exercise or eat potassium-rich foods like bananas.

Heat exhaustion can be a precursor of heatstroke; the symptoms include heavy sweating, rapid breathing and a fast, weak pulse. Get the person out of the heat and into a cool place.

Heat stroke occurs when the body is overcome by excessive temperatures that elevate the body core temperature to over 105F. The skin becomes hot, dry and red. Vomiting can occur and victim may lose consciousness.

To prevent heat emergencies, adequately hydrate before going outside or exercising, avoid long exposure to warm climate, minimize time in sun during summer and wear proper attire that ventilates well when exercising.

CARE for a Heat Emergency

To care for a heat related emergency:
Move to a cool area
Loosen tight clothing
Put cool wet towels on the skin
If the person can drink, give small amounts of cool water
Place a cool compress or wet towel in the armpits and groin area.

Large amounts of blood circulate in these areas, so by placing cool items in the groin and armpits, you are helping to cool the blood and the core body temperature. Use A/C or fans to cool the skin.

If the victim looses consciousness, call 9-1-1, place victim on the side in case vomiting occurs, and continue to place ice packs on the extremities, neck and armpits.


A cold-related emergency can occur when the body temperature drops and is unable to regain the heat needed to maintain normal function.

Hypothermia is marked by shivering, numbness, glassy stare, impaired judgment and loss of consciousness.

To care for a cold related emergency:
Move the victim to a warm place
Remove wet clothing and dry the victim
Wrap in blankets and
Give warm liquids to drink that do not contain caffeine or alcohol.

Do not warm the victim too fast. This may cause dangerous heart rhythms.

Frostbite occurs when extremities are exposed to the cold. The affected area will lose feeling and the skin may appear cold, waxy and discolored. Get the victim out of the cold. Do not attempt to re-warm the frostbitten area if there is a chance that it will re-freeze again. Never rub the area. Handle the area gently and place in warm water until normal color and feeling return.

This information is brought to you by CPR and More. We teach CPR and First aid classes. If you are interested in more information on this topic or any of our first aid topics, please check out our website at www.cprnmore.com or call us to set up an appointment at 1-800-477-6193