It’s hot. Really hot. August-in-Oklahoma hot. And that means that risk of heat related illness is on the rise. Whether you work in an office or outdoors, everyone needs to be aware of the increased risk of heat related illness that summer brings to the state. When the temperature and humidity of summer are combined with other factors such as hard physical labor, dehydration, or fatigue, the results can be serious, even fatal. To reduce this risk, let’s go over how to identify the more serious heat related conditions and how to treat them.
Heat cramps are muscle spasms that affect individual who are sweating a lot due to strenuous activity. They usually occur in the arms, abdomen, or legs and may be due to a depletion of salt in the body, lost through sweat. They can be treated by resting in a cool place, drinking clear juice or a sports beverage, and by not returning to strenuous activity for a few hours. Note: If you have heart problems, are on a low-sodium diet, or if the cramps do not subside in 1 hour, seek medical attention.
Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures along with inadequate or unbalanced replacement of body fluids. It is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt through sweat. While everyone is at risk of heat exhaustion, those most at risk include the elderly, people with high blood pressure, and people working in a hot environment. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea/vomiting, and fainting. Victims will have a fast and weak pulse rate and fast and shallow breathing. Victims should be treated by drinking a cool beverage, resting, taking a cool shower or bath, moving to air-conditioned environment, and by wearing lightweight clothing. Anyone suffering from heat exhaustion and having heart problems or high blood pressure should seek medical attention. Also, seek medical attention if symptoms are severe or if they last longer than one hour.
Heat stroke is the most dangerous of all heat-related illnesses. Heat stroke can be fatal. It occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. It can be recognized by an extremely high body temperature (above 103oF, orally), red/hot/dry skin with no sweating, rapid and strong pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and unconsciousness. If you see any of these signs, have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you do the following for the victim: move them to a shady area, cool the victim rapidly using whatever methods available (immersion in cool water, a cool shower, wet the victim and fan vigorously), monitor the victim’s body temperature and continue cooling efforts until body temperature drops to 101-102oF, and call a hospital emergency room if emergency medical personnel are delayed. Do not give the victim fluids to drink.
Heat related illness is best treated by avoiding it all together. Follow these tips to reduce the risk:
Drink plenty of fluids
Replace salt and minerals
Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen
Schedule outdoor activities for cooler times of the day
Pace yourself when working outside
Take breaks in a cool, shady spot
Use the buddy system – work with a friend
Take time to adjust to the heat
Do not leave children in cars
Use common sense – if it seems unsafe, don’t do it!
Source: Centers for Disease Control CDC Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety