High temperatures and humidity stress the body's ability to cool itself, and heat illness becomes a special concern during hot weather. There are three major forms of heat illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke - with heat stroke being a life threatening condition.
Heat Cramps: Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture levels. Low salt levels in muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. People most prone to heat exhaustion are those that are elderly, have high blood pressure, and those working in a hot environment.
Stroke: Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related disorder. It occurs
when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body's temperature
rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool
down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees
Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or
permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.
Excerpt from the 2002 National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement: Exertional Heat Illnesses
"Cooling Therapies: The fastest way to decrease body-core temperature is immersion of the trunk and extremities into a pool or tub filled with cold water (between 35.8° F and 59.8° F). Conditions that have been associated with immersion therapy include shivering and peripheral vasoconstriction; however, the potential for these should not deter the medical staff from using immersion therapy for rapid cooling. Cold-water immersion therapy was associated with a zero percent fatality rate in 252 cases of exertional heat stroke in the military. Other forms of cooling (water spray; ice packs covering the body; ice packs on axillae, groin, and neck; or blowing air) decrease body-core temperature at a slower rate compared with cold-water immersion."
In 2014, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association released an update to their guidelines for managing heat stress in athletes. The NATA Exertional Heat Illness Position Statement identifies cold water immersion as the most effective way to treat a patient with exertional heat stroke and recommends cooling the athlete prior to EMS transport. Click here for the full update.