First-Aid for Heatstroke

Know how to handle this hot-weather emergency.

You and a friend are out enjoying a ride on one of the season's first hot days. Suddenly, your companion starts to complain of nausea and a headache. Before long, she says she feels weak and woozy, and she seems to be getting more agitated by the minute. Her skin feels hot and dry to the touch. What's wrong, and what should you do?

Your friend has classic symptoms of heatstroke (also called sunstroke), a life-threatening condition caused by the brain's failure to regulate the body's heat mechanism. It's common in people who expose themselves to hot weather before they've acclimated to it. Characterized by rapid onset in addition to the other symptoms named, heatstroke quickly results in cessation of sweating.

Heatstroke symptoms set in when body temperature's already gone as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

Minus its means of cooling itself via sweating, the body's temperature can climb high as 110 degrees, leading to delirium, convulsions and death. If you don't give immediate first-aid, this could be the last horseback ride your friend ever takes.

Remember these first-aid steps:

If you have the means, call for medical assistance right away. Heatstroke is an emergency.

In the meanwhile, act fast to cool the victim; sweating won't resume until her temperature drops to 100 degrees. Get her off the horse and into the nearest shady place. Strip her to her underwear, then cover her with water-soaked fabric, such as her shirt - yours, too, if nothing else, such as a bedsheet, is available. Fan her to speed up cooling caused by evaporation. If possible, add ice to the top of the wet fabric. If you happen to be near a creek, pond or water tank, immerse the victim directly into the water while placing a water-soaked cloth on top of her head.

Replace lost body fluid and salt by having the victim drink cooled, salinated water. Add a teaspoon of table salt per pint of water.

Prevent the victim from exerting herself; any exercise, including an attempt to walk back to camp or the barn, compounds the effects of heatstroke.

Once help's arrived and your friend is pronounced out of the woods, don't plan on having her join you for a ride the next day. Heatstroke sufferers are subject to relapse; most medical experts recommend that victims remain in a cool place for at least a week after an episode.