Knowing how to spot the symptoms of and treat common heat-related conditions such as fainting, sunburn and dehydration can be vital to help people look after themselves and others, as well as helping to prevent avoidable trips to hospital at a time when NHS resources may already be under additional pressure.
“Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two of the most serious problems that can develop when the mercury soars but by being prepared you can spot the early warning signs, such as headache and dizziness. Knowing what action to take, could mean you might be the difference between life and death in an emergency in your community.”
Volunteers from St John will be out and about, keeping communities safe in the heat at hundreds of events across the country this week as the school holidays begin.
One of the most common conditions treated by St John volunteers when the sun is shining is dehydration, which can be avoided by keeping topped up with small sips of water throughout the day and taking breaks from the sun wherever possible.
Fainting is when someone briefly becomes unresponsive, often causing them to fall to the ground. It happens because for a moment, there is not enough blood flowing to the brain.
People often faint as a reaction to pain, exhaustion, hunger, or emotional stress. It is also common for people to faint after they have been standing or sitting still for a long period of time, especially if they’re feeling hot.
What to look for:
There may be a brief loss of response, often causing them to fall to the ground.
They may have a slow pulse.
They may have pale, cold skin and sweating.
How to treat someone who has fainted:
Advise them to lie down.
Kneel down beside them and raise their legs on your shoulders. Watch their face for signs of recovery.
Make sure they get plenty of fresh air and ask other people to stand back.
Reassure them and help them to sit up slowly, when they feel better.
If they stay unresponsive, open their airway, check their breathing and prepare to treat someone who is unresponsive.
Dehydration happens when someone loses more fluid than they take in, especially if it’s really hot and sweaty outside, so make sure you’re sipping lots of water at regular intervals.
How to spot dehydration:
There are four key things to look for if someone is suffering from dehydration:
They may complain of headaches and light headedness
Dry mouth, eyes and lips
Pass only small amounts of dark urine
Have muscle cramps
How to treat dehydration:
Help them to sit down and give them plenty of water to drink.
Giving them an oral rehydration solution to drink will help replace salt and other minerals which they’ve lost – you can buy this in sachets from any pharmacy.
If they have any painful cramps, encourage them to rest, help them stretch and massage their muscles that hurt.
Keep checking how they’re feeling – if they still feel unwell once they’re rehydrated then encourage them to see a healthcare professional straight away.
If left untreated, someone with dehydration can develop heat exhaustion, which is more serious, so it’s important to make sure they rehydrate themselves as soon as possible.
Long periods in the sun can take its toll after a while and can lead to heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is caused by a loss of salt and water from the body, usually through excessive sweating. It develops slowly and usually happens to people who aren’t used hot, humid weather.
How to spot heat exhaustion:
There are six key things that you may lead you to suspect that someone has heat exhaustion:
Dizziness and confusion
Loss of appetite and feeling sick
Sweating with pale clammy skin
Cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
Fast, weakening pulse and shallow breathing
How to treat heat exhaustion:
Help them to lie down in a cool place and raise their legs.
Give them lots of water to drink or isotonic sports drinks.
Check their breathing, pulse and responsiveness.
Suggest they get medical advice. Call 999/112 if you are concerned.
Heatstroke is even more serious than heat exhaustion and can be life-threatening.
How to spot heatstroke:
There are the six key things to look out for:
Headache, dizziness and discomfort
Restlessness and confusion
Hot flushed and dry skin
A fast deterioration in the level of response
A full bounding pulse
Body temperature above 40°C (104°F)
How to treat heatstroke:
Move them to a cool place and remove their out clothing.
Wrap them in a cool, wet sheet and keep pouring cold water over the sheet until their temperature falls to at least 37.5°C (measured under the armpit). If a wet sheet isn’t available, then fan the individual or sponge them down with cold water to keep them cool.
Once their temperature seems to have gone back to normal, replace the wet sheet with a dry sheet.
While waiting for help to arrive, keep checking their temperature, as well as their breathing, pulse and level of response.
If they start getting hot again, repeat the cooling process to lower their temperature.
Whether you’re out in the park, or relaxing on the beach, it’s important to avoid too much exposure to the sun by covering up with clothing, staying in the shade and applying high factor sunscreen. Most sunburn is mild, but in severe cases the skin can become damaged, turn lobster red and blister. They may also develop heat exhaustion.
What to look for:
Pain in the area of the burn
There may be blistering
How to treat sunburn:
Cover the skin with light clothing and move them out of the sun.
Give them cold water to sip.
Cool the skin with cool water for 10 minutes.
Apply calamine lotion to soothe mild sunburn
If there are blisters, advise that they see a healthcare professional.
Treat any symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke and get medical help.
For more first aid advice or information on St John Ambulance, including how to make a donation, volunteering opportunities, and details of training for the public, schools and businesses, visit www.sja.org.uk or call 08700 10 49 50.