Heat Emergencies

Heat Emergencies: What Is It?

The term “heat emergency” is used when the body temperature reaches 104°F (40°C) or higher. At this point, the heart stops beating and other organs begin shutting down. You may experience dizziness, confusion, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Your skin will turn pale and your breathing rate increases rapidly until death occurs due to brain damage caused by high blood pressure.

What Causes Heat Emergencies?

Excessive exercise, exposure to extreme temperatures, dehydration and overheating are some of the causes of heat exhaustion. Excessive physical activity can cause heatstroke if it exceeds what is considered safe limits. For example, if you go jogging in 100°F weather with no clothing on, you could get heatstroke. If you do not drink enough fluids or eat enough during hot days then you may suffer from dehydration which can lead to heatstroke.

Extreme temperatures can cause heatstroke if they exceed normal operating ranges. For example, if you work at a hot factory and wear only a shirt and shorts all day long, you might develop heatstroke. If you spend time outdoors in extreme heat without adequate protection then you may become dehydrated leading to heatstroke.

How Do I Know When I Have Heat Stroke?

The signs and symptoms of heatstroke include:

Fast or irregular heartbeat

Breathing difficulties

Confusion or delirium


Nausea or vomiting

Hot and red dry skin, may be wet with sweat. (In the later stages of heat exhaustion, skin may be cold and clammy). The skin may be either flushed or ashen in color.

Lack of sweating

Flushed cheeks

Muscle pain or weakness

Paralysis (partial or complete)


Slow and shallow breathing

Unconsciousness or coma

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms: get to a doctor immediately. Call an ambulance if need be. If you have been working outside on a hot day then rest in the shade and rehydrate yourself. You should also drink more liquids even if you’re not thirsty.

What To Do If You Suspect Heat Stroke?

If you have someone with you then call for medical assistance immediately. Move the person to a cool and shady place. Loosen their clothing and remove excess clothing. Splash tepid (not cold) water on the person’s skin and fan them to help them cool down. Make sure they are sitting up to prevent saliva from flowing into the lungs.

If you are by yourself then call emergency medical assistance and follow the same procedure as above.

What Not To Do If You Suspect Heat Stroke?

Never put an unconscious person into ice or cold water or give them anything to drink. It is important that a person with heat illness begins to rehydrate with fluids as soon as possible.

Sources & references used in this article:

Heat emergencies. by MH Bross, BT Nash Jr, FB Carlton Jr – American Family Physician, 1994 – europepmc.org

Heat-related illness during extreme weather emergencies by LN Blum, LB Bresolin, MA Williams – JAMA, 1998 – jamanetwork.com

Heat-related deaths during the July 1995 heat wave in Chicago by JC Semenza, CH Rubin, KH Falter… – New England journal …, 1996 – Mass Medical Soc