It is that time of year again — hot, hot, hot — watch our for heat emergencies.
For those of you who live in warmer climates, it is important to pay attention to the recognition and prevention of heat emergencies.
Not only are heat emergencies a potential problem for your patients, but they also can be an issue for you while on the job as first responders.
Here is a quick refresher on the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke as we move into hotter months.
Heat exhaustion symptoms
Patients experiencing heat exhaustion present with fatigue, headaches, muscle or abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, and possible dark urine from dehydration.
Usually, the skin will be cool and damp with heavy sweating. Their pulse may be rapid or weak.
If you see signs of heat exhaustion, move the patient out of the heat to begin to cool them. You may try active cooling measures with ice packs to the groin and armpits, but be careful not to place them on exposed skin.
You also might consider starting IV fluid replacement. Carefully monitor the patient for any changes in mental activity or progression to heat stroke.
Signs of heat stroke
Heat stroke symptoms can be exertional or non-exertional. The patient will likely have dry, warm skin with a lack of sweating — especially in exertional. Although if a patient is in shock, his or her skin may be cold to the touch.
If dehydrated, the patient likely will have some neurological impairment as well as dark-colored urine. This is a true emergency and delaying care and transport can lead to severe complications.
Remove the patient from the heat source and begin active cooling measures if signs of heat stroke are present. Fluid resuscitation is going to be important for this patient, especially if rhabdomyolysis is a concern.
The patient likely will have some electrolyte imbalances, so continuous ECG monitoring is important. Remember that in addition to the heat, there are other potential factors that can lead to heat stroke, such as drug use and extremes in age.
Prepare yourself for heat emergencies too
For EMS professionals, make sure you are staying well-hydrated while on the job. If you are confronted with conditions that require you to spend a great deal of time in the heat, pay even more attention to hydration and cooling yourself after the incident.
Also, keep an eye on one another for signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke and avoid consuming energy drinks because they contribute to dehydration.
Stay safe and keep your cool (pun intended).