Drastic Treatment Needed In Cases Of Sunstroke

The mildest of the diseases due to heat is heat cramps. Two other conditions are distinguished which are due to the same cause—one is heat exhaustion and the other heat stroke or sunstroke.

Heat exhaustion is characterized by pronounced weakness, stupor, pallor, profuse perspiration, increase of the heart beat and lowering of blood pressure. The victims of plain heat exhaustion seldom become unconscious. The temperature usually is moderately raised.

In sunstroke these conditions are all greatly exaggerated, and the heat regulating mechanism of the body is completely overwhelmed. Sunstroke comes on suddenly and death may be instantaneous. The victim always is unconscious, the temperature is higher than in any other condition, sometimes going to as high as 109 degrees F. In this condition, as in heat cramps, the loss of salts in the perspiration reduces the chloride content of the blood.

Treatment of both conditions is the same. If you are put in the position of being compelled to take care of a sunstroke victim before medical aid arrives, the important thing is to loosen any tight parts of the clothing—the neck and waist region—and throw water over the body of the patient.


That instruction should be taken literally—the water should be thrown on the patient’s body with some force. The treatment which is so often advised of putting the patient in ice packs or very cold water is not by any means good advice. In a series of cases in which the methods of different hospitals were compared, it was found that the hospital which employed the ice pack routine had the highest number of deaths. The treatment employed in the hospital which had the best record was to lay the patient out on a cot, entirely naked, and throw lukewarm or cool water upon the skin from a hose.

Throwing a bucket of water on the body amounts to the same thing. After this has revived the patient somewhat, he is wrapped in a sheet and water sprinkled over him.

Cold water or an ice cap on the head is a necessary part of all sun-stroke treatment.

It must be remembered that there is profound shock to the heart when sunstroke comes on, and the effect of ice packs or ice cold water is to increase this shock. The effect of water thrown forcefully on the skin is to raise the blood pressure and stimulate the heart. Of course, the primary object of treatment is to reduce the body temperature, which always is excessive, producing the highest temperatures we see, but the moderately cool water does that just as effectively as the ice cold water.