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First Aid merit badge 3f: Explain the symptoms of heat stroke and what action needs to be taken for first aid and for prevention.

First Aid merit badge 5d: Describe symptoms, treatment and prevention of: Dehydration

First Aid merit badge 5j: Describe symptoms, treatment and prevention of: Muscle cramps

Second Class 6c: Show first aid for dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke

When the human body gets low on fluids, the resulting condition is known as dehydration. Dehydration is caused by losing fluids through sweating, vomiting or diarrhea and not replacing those fluids fast enough.

Symptoms of dehydration include:

In severe cases, dehydration can also cause:

Treating dehydration is a matter of replenishing the victim's fluids as fast as possible. Some fluids are better than others:

  1. Commercial products for treating dehydration in infants, such as Pedialyte.
  2. Half-strength Gatorade. Other "sports drinks" are not acceptable -- most of them have more sugar than anything else.
  3. Room-temperature water. Cold water steals energy from the victim's body as it warms up.
Do not give the victim coffee, soda or anything alcoholic. If possible, do not give the victim any medication while treating for dehydration. Doing so will only make the condition worse.

Dehydration can be life-threatening if it is severe or prolonged. Otherwise healthy victims who are dehydrated due to exercise should respond to treatment very quickly, often within 30 minutes. If the victim does not recover with treatment, seek medical assistance.

Preventing dehydration is a matter of planning. When a situation arises where excessive fluid loss could occur, treat the dehydration before symptoms develop. That could be as simple as providing drinking water during a soccer game. In case of illness, preventing dehydration may require monitoring the victim's fluid intake and encouraging him to drink more as necessary.

Muscle Cramps
A muscle cramp occurs when a muscle tightens involuntarily and will not release. Cramps can be very painful but are not life-threatening.

Muscle cramps can be easily treated with massage and heat. As they can often be caused by dehydration, giving the victim fluids is also a good idea. Cramps can also be caused by excessive heat. Resting and cooling down will often allow them to subside.

Muscle cramps can be prevented by keeping the body hydrated and stretching properly before physical exercise.

Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is overheated and cannot cool itself fast enough. When a victim is suffering from heat exhaustion, the following symptoms may be visible: Heat exhaustion is not life-threatening if treated quickly. Treatment is simple:
  1. Remove the victim from the hot environment (e.g. go inside, sit in front of a fan)
  2. Give the victim room-temperature or cool water to drink
  3. Apply a cool compress (wet towel) to the victim's head, neck, armpits, elbows or knees.

Preventing heat exhaustion requires vigilance. Everyone responds differently to heat and exercise. Medication and alcohol can also affect the body's ability to respond to heat. Remember that heat exhaustion can easily occur during cold weather if the victim is working hard and his body cannot expel the heat fast enough. If a person begins showing any of the signs of heat exhaustion, treatment should begin right away.

Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a severe form of heat exhaustion. Heat stroke occurs when the body has been overwhelmed with heat and stops trying to cool itself. At that point, the body's temperature can rise rapdily to dangerous levels. Heat stroke is always life-threatening. Seek medical assistance immediately.

Heat stroke may be difficult to distinguish from heat exhaustion. Look for the following symptoms:

A victim of heat stroke is suffering from a high fever, similar to a serious illness and brain/organ damage can result if the body's temperature remains too high. Treatment involves cooling the victim as rapidly as possible.

Always seek medical treatment for heat stroke, even if the victim appears to recover.

Preventing heat stroke is the same as preventing heat exhaustion. Know your limits and watch others for signs of excessive heat. Make sure everyone knows the symptoms so everyone can watch each other.

©2005 Sam Clippinger / samc (at) troop50 (dot) org
Last updated: 12/9/2005