First Aid for Heat Injuries

Heat injuries are environmental injuries. They may result when a service member—

• Is exposed to extreme heat, such as from the sun or from high temperatures.
• Does not wear proper clothing.
• Is in MOPP gear.
• Is inside closed spaces, such as inside an armored vehicle.
• Wears body armor.

Heat injury can be divided into three categories: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.

Each service member must be able to recognize and give first aid for heat injuries.

WARNING: The heat casualty should be continually monitored for development of conditions which may require the performance of necessary basic lifesaving measures.

CAUTION: Do not use salt solutions in first aid procedures for heat injuries.

1 – Check the casualty for signs and symptoms of cramping.

  • Signs and symptoms. Cramping is caused by an imbalance of chemicals (called electrolytes) in the body as a result of excessive sweating. This condition causes the casualty to exhibit:
  • Cramping in the extremities (arms and legs).
  • Abdominal (stomach) cramps.
  • Excessive sweating.

NOTE: Thirst may or may not occur. Cramping can occur without the service member being thirsty.
First aid measures.

  • Move the casualty to a cool, shady area or improvise shade if none is available.
  • Loosen his clothing (if not in a chemical environment).
  • Have him slowly drink at least one canteen full of water. (The body absorbs cool water faster than warm or cold water; therefore, cool water is preferred if it is available.)
  • Seek medical assistance should cramps continue.

1 – Check the casualty for signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Signs and symptoms. Heat exhaustion is caused by loss of body fluids (dehydration) through sweating without adequate fluid replacement. It can occur in an otherwise fit individual who is involved in physical exertion in any hot environment especially if the service member is not acclimatized to that environment. These signs and symptoms are—

  • Excessive 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 hands and/or feet.
  • Confusion.
  • First aid measures.
  • Move the casualty to a cool, shady area or improvise shade if none is available.
  • Loosen or remove his clothing and boots; pour water on him and fan him.
  • Have him slowly drink at least one canteen of water.
  • Elevate his legs.
  • If possible, the casualty should not participate in strenuous activity for the remainder of the day.
  • Monitor the casualty until the symptoms are gone, or medical assistance arrives.

 

3 – Check the casualty for signs and symptoms of heatstroke.

WARNING: Heatstroke is a medical emergency which may result in death if care is delayed.

Signs and symptoms. A service member suffering from heatstroke has been exposed to high temperatures (such as direct sunlight) or been dressed in protective overgarments, which causes the body temperature to rise. Heatstroke occurs more rapidly in service members who are engaged in work or other physical activity in a high heat environment. Heatstroke is caused by a failure of the body’s cooling mechanism which includes a decrease in the body’s ability to produce sweat. The casualty’s skin is red (flushed), hot, and dry. He may experience weakness, dizziness, confusion, headaches, seizures, nausea, stomach pains or cramps, and his respiration and pulse may be rapid and weak. Unconsciousness and collapse may occur suddenly.

First aid measures. Cool casualty immediately by—

  • Moving him to a cool, shady area or improvising shade if none is available.
  • Loosening or removing his clothing (except in a chemical environment).
  • Spraying or pouring water on him; fanning him to permit the coolant effect of evaporation.
  • Massaging his extremities and skin, which increases the blood flow to those body areas, thus aiding the cooling process.
  • Elevating his legs.
  • Having him slowly drink at least one canteen full of water if he is conscious.

NOTE: Start cooling casualty immediately. Continue cooling while awaiting transportation and during transport to an MTF.

Medical assistance. Seek medical assistance because the casualty should be transported to an MTF as soon as possible. Do not interrupt the cooling process or lifesaving measures to seek help; if someone else is present send them for help. The casualty should be continually monitored for development of conditions that may require the performance of necessary basic lifesaving measures.

You can download and print our document on Heat Injuries, signs and symptoms and first aid.