It’s the summer competition season, and as the sun gets hotter, so do we. Standing in a ring in full hunting gear on a baking hot day can cause serious problems. We should all be aware of the effects of heat exhaustion, caused by the loss of salt and water from the body through excessive sweating.

Symptoms can occur gradually, but look out for:

  • headache
  • dizziness and confusion
  • loss of appetite and nausea
  • sweating
  • pale, clammy skin
  • cramps in arms, legs or abdomen
  • rapid breathing
  • weakening pulse

Those affected need to cool down and replace lost body fluids and salt. It is best to lie down in a cool area and drink plenty of water, if possible in a dilute salt solution (one teaspoon per litre of water). The casualty should always be referred to a doctor to be checked.

Prolonged exposure to heat may lead to “heatstroke”, where the body’s thermostat fails and it becomes dangerously overheated. In this instance, there is often little warning and the casualty can become unconscious within minutes.

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Headache, dizziness and discomfort
  • Restlessness and confusion
  • Hot, flushed, dry skin
  • Full, bounding pulse
  • High body temperature more than 40°C (104°F)
  • Rapid deterioration in response

What to do

The casualty needs to be cooled down as quickly as possible and requires urgent hospitalisation. Place him in the coolest available area and remove as many outer clothes as practical.

Wrap the casualty in a cold, wet sheet until the temperature has fallen to 37.5°C (99.5°F) under the armpit. (A thermometer should never be placed under the tongue of a confused casualty).

When temperature appears normal this can be replaced with a dry sheet. Fan or bathe with a wet sponge if no sheet is available.

If the casualty becomes unconscious, monitor vital signs and be prepared to give rescue breaths and chest compressions.

Don’t miss the latest in Horse & Hound’s Accident & Emergency series in this week’s Horse & Hound.

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