As we move into some of the warmest months of the year, heat-related illness should be on everyone’s radar.
Heat-related illness occurs when a person’s body isn’t able to cool itself through sweating and heat loss into the air. Most commonly, a person becomes dehydrated in environments where there’s a high temperature with high humidity and no breeze.
There are three types of heat-related emergencies:
Heat cramps. Signs include heavy sweating and painful muscle cramps in the abdomen, arms and legs.
Heat exhaustion. Signs of heat cramps plus intense thirst, weakness, faintness, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and pale, cool skin.
Heat stroke. Signs of heat exhaustion plus a high body temperature, confusion, slurred speech, seizures, fast breathing and pulse, severe headache or unresponsiveness.
Each of these heat-related emergencies is progressive, meaning symptoms will continue to get worse without intervention.
So, it’s important to recognize signs of heat-related illness and treat it early before it becomes life-threatening.
Who is most susceptible to heat-related illness?
The people most at risk for heat-related illness are those who work or exercise outdoors in the heat, such as athletes, laborers, military personnel and workers who wear protective clothing (e.g. firefighters). Those who work in hot indoor environments with poor ventilation are also at increased risk, such as kitchen or laundry workers.
Other vulnerable groups have poor heat tolerance, including older adults aged 65 and over, young children and anyone with existing medical conditions.
Additionally, a person with heat exhaustion is more susceptible to severe heat illness. So, they shouldn’t return to physical activity the same day as symptoms can return and escalate to a life-threatening emergency.
Preventing heat-related emergencies
Prevention is key when you work or exercise in the heat. Plan ahead for hot and humid conditions by taking the following precautions:
Take time to acclimate to the heat by gradually increasing workloads and taking frequent breaks.
Rotate tasks among different workers to minimize heat exposure and overexertion.
Drink fluids before, during and after physical activity.
Perform the heaviest work during the coolest part of the day.
Dress appropriately and protect yourself from the sun.
Move to a cool area and give first aid to anyone who is developing signs of heat-related illness.
To learn how to respond to heat-related illnesses and other life-threatening emergencies, contact your local HSI Training Center.