If you need medical attention due to heat exhaustion, it may be apparent to medical personnel that you have heat exhaustion, or they may take your rectal temperature to confirm the diagnosis and rule out heatstroke. If your doctors suspect your heat exhaustion may have progressed to heatstroke, you may need additional tests, including:
- A blood test to check for low blood sodium or potassium and the content of gases in your blood
- A urine test to check the concentration and composition of your urine and to check your kidney function, which can be affected by heatstroke
- Muscle function tests to check for rhabdomyolysis — serious damage to your muscle tissue
- X-rays and other imaging to check for damage to your internal organs
In most cases, you can treat heat exhaustion yourself by doing the following:
- Rest in a cool place. Getting into an air-conditioned building is best, but at the very least, find a shady spot or sit in front of a fan. Rest on your back with your legs elevated higher than your heart level.
- Drink cool fluids. Stick to water or sports drinks. Don't drink any alcoholic beverages, which can contribute to dehydration.
- Try cooling measures. If possible, take a cool shower, soak in a cool bath, or put towels soaked in cool water on your skin. If you're outdoors and not near shelter, soaking in a cool pond or stream can help bring your temperature down.
- Loosen clothing. Remove any unnecessary clothing and make sure your clothes are lightweight and nonbinding.
If you don't begin to feel better within one hour of using these treatment measures, seek prompt medical attention.
To cool your body to a normal temperature, your doctor may use these heatstroke treatment techniques:
- Immerse you in cold water. A bath of cold or ice water has been proved to be the most effective way of quickly lowering your core body temperature. The quicker you can receive cold water immersion, the less risk of death and organ damage.
- Use evaporation cooling techniques. If your core body temperature is not in the heatstroke range and if cold water immersion is not available, health care workers may try to lower your body temperature using an evaporation method. Cool water is misted on your body while warm air is fanned over you, causing the water to evaporate and cool your skin.
- Pack you with ice and cooling blankets. Another method is to wrap you in a special cooling blanket and apply ice packs to your groin, neck, back and armpits to lower your temperature.
- Give you medications to stop your shivering. If treatments to lower your body temperature make you shiver, your doctor may give you a muscle relaxant, such as a benzodiazepine. Shivering increases your body temperature, making treatment less effective.
Dec. 14, 2017
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- Walls RM, et al., eds. Heat illness. In: Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 29, 2017.
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- Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 30, 2017.
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