Treating Heat Related Illnesses During Survival


Heat Illnesses

Heat Stroke

© copyright 2004, by Gary Benton

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An older man of about fifty was walking along the bank of the stream, fishing pole in hand, when suddenly he collapsed in a heap. His face was red and dry as he immediately started vomiting. He had been fishing since early morning, did not have any water with him, and the high Missouri heat had claimed another victim. Can you imagine his chances of surviving if he had been in a remote survival situation? Since he was experiencing heat stroke, he most likely he would not have made it under survival circumstances. It this case though, he was given first aid, an ambulance was called, and he was transported to a nearby hospital. He survived. Heat related injuries could happen to all of us, regardless of age.


Most of us who live in Missouri are used to the high temperatures associated with the dog days of summer. The temperature rises, the wind quits blowing, and the humidity gets higher than normal. In the days of old, life almost came to a complete standstill as animals and people quit moving. Anything with a brain was seeking shade and cooler temperatures. Well, that is no longer the case since the invention of air conditioners. Most Americans don’t even slow down much, when compared to the past. However, we should, because heat related injuries could be fatal.


Lets look at the most common heat related injury, heat exhaustion. This injury results from prolonged exposure or high physical activity during high temperatures. Additionally, high humidity makes it easy to acquire. I saw many men and woman pass out during physical exercises when I was in the military due to the heat exhaustion (that’s why all the instructors made us drink a lot of water). When you combine high heat, high humidity, with low body fluids, heat exhaustion will occur. You can reduce the risk of heat exhaustion by staying in the shade as much as possible, traveling very little during the heat of the day, and drinking lots of water (water is not hard to find in Missouri, even in a survival situation, but make sure you purify if before drinking). Well, we know what causes it and how to avoid it, how do you recognize it?


  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Nausea and perhaps vomiting
  • Clammy or pale skin
  • Perspiration on the face and forehead
  • Rapid breathing


Heat exhaustion is easy to treat, but a frightening experience for most of us. The victim should be moved to a shady area, if possible. Treat for shock, give small sips of cool water (if available), remove as much clothing as possible, and sponge the body with tepid water. Usually the injured person will be up and about in little time. However, if the person does not seem to “bounce back” seek medical attention. You may have a person experiencing a heat stroke.


A heat stroke is caused by overexposure to the sun combined with a high body temperature. This situation can be life threatening if not treated immediately. The victim may have,


  • A high body temperature
  • Hot and flushed skin
  • Red and perhaps dry skin
  • Restless or bizarre behavior
  • Complain of a severe headache, having vomiting, or nausea
  • If not treated, the individual will eventually lose consciousness


With heat stroke, move the person to a cool and shady place (out of the sun), check for breathing and pulse (use CPR if needed). Use cool compresses around the persons head, sides of the chest, and armpits. If you have ice, use it to make the compresses and add a compress to the groin area. You should remove as much clothing as you can and fan the person, by hand if necessary. If the person is conscious and not vomiting or nauseated, you can give them small sips of cool water. Immediately seek medical attention with heat stroke.


So, we have discussed the two most common heat injuries, how do you prevent them?


First, do not stay exposed to the sun and heat any longer than you have to (seek shade). Keep your head (hat) and body (sleeves down) covered from direct sunlight. In a survival situation, move to a shady area and do your work at night, after the sun goes down. It will be cooler and you will sweat less, which will assist you in retaining body fluids. If you have it, drink more water than you usually do.


Also, when you urinate, check the color of your urine. Dark colored urine indicates you need to increase your water intake (dehydration is happening). Many survival professionals recommend that have a least one-quart of water for every two lost. But, remember, less fluid will NOT result in less sweat! In extreme heat, you may not even feel yourself sweat because the sweat evaporations very quickly. Always be on the look out for sources of additional water, but avoid alcohol or caffeine, both will dehydrate you. And, purify all water that you suspect is unsafe with water purification tablets or by boiling.


Heat related injuries claim numerous victims each summer in Missouri. We are a state filled with people who just enjoy nature and hardly slow down when the temperature goes up. I suggest we understand the threat of heat related injuries, know how to recognize and treat them, and use good common sense. Armed with that knowledge, your summer will be much more enjoyable.


Take care and I will see you on Missouri’s trails.


This article is not meant to replace medical knowledge or expertise. It is provided to the reader only as a guide. The author has prepared it to best of his ability from training received from the US military and American Red Cross. When in doubt, always seek medical attention immediately. Heat can kill.




Heat Illness




Gary Benton has over 45 years of outdoor experience in camping, hiking, fishing, and other activities. He's no armchair survival man, he's walked the walk from the arctic to the desert and all the area in between. Gary has an associates degree in Search and Rescue, Survival Operations, a B.S. in Industrial Occupational safety, and all but his thesis completed for a M.S. in Counseling Psychology.
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