Heat Illness Prevention and Symptoms

August 4, 2023
By N. Nicholas, ASP

Today, we will discuss an essential topic to worker safety during the summer months, – Heat Illness Awareness. As we approach the hotter months of the year, it becomes increasingly important for us to stay vigilant and protect ourselves from the potential dangers of extreme heat. Heat illnesses can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions, but with some awareness and simple precautions, we can keep ourselves safe and healthy.

First, what is heat related illness?

Heat-related illnesses are a group of medical conditions that can occur when the body is unable to regulate its temperature properly due to exposure to excessive heat and humidity. These conditions can range from mild heat exhaustion to life-threatening heatstroke. Heat-related illnesses typically occur when the body’s internal cooling mechanisms, such as sweating, become overwhelmed, and the core body temperature rises to dangerous levels.

When the body cannot cool off by sweating, heat-induced illnesses, such as heat rash, cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke can occur. These illnesses can be severe, sometimes even resulting in death.

Factors That can Lead to Heat Stress

The following are common factors that can all contribute to heat stress:

  • High temperature and humidity
  • Direct sun or heat
  • Limited air movement
  • Physical exertion
  • Poor physical condition
  • Some medications
  • A lack of tolerance for hot workplaces or areas

Common Heat Related illnesses

Heat Exhaustion: A milder form of heat-related illness and is often a precursor to heatstroke. This occurs when the body loses too much water and electrolytes through sweating, leading to dehydration. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, headache, and muscle cramps. The skin may feel cool and clammy.

Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that can occur during or after intense physical activity in hot conditions. They are caused by dehydration and the loss of essential minerals like salt (electrolytes).

Heat Syncope: Heat syncope or dizzy spell that can happen when the body’s blood vessels dilate to cool down, causing a temporary drop in blood pressure. It is common among individuals who stand for prolonged periods in hot environments or suddenly stand up after prolonged sitting or lying down in the heat.

Heat Rash: Otherwise known as  “prickly heat,” . This condition occurs when sweat ducts become clogged, leading to a rash of small red bumps or blisters. It is more common in areas where clothing causes friction against the skin.

Heat Edema: Heat edema is the swelling of hands, feet, and ankles due to prolonged exposure to heat. It is more common among individuals who are not acclimated to hot environments.

Heat Stroke: Heatstroke can be fatal if not treated as an emergency situation. It is the most severe heat-related illness and is a medical emergency. It occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above 104°F and the body’s cooling system fails. Heatstroke can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include a high body temperature, altered mental state, confusion, rapid pulse, and dry, hot skin (lack of sweating).

Note: If you prefer watching a video about heat related illness, checkout the video below:

This video discusses heat related illness symptoms and first aid measure and tips to prevent heat related illness.

Heat Stress Prevention

  • Know the Risks: Heat illnesses can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition. It’s crucial to understand that some people are more susceptible to heat-related problems, such as the elderly, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, and those who are overweight.
  • Stay Hydrated: The most important step in preventing heat-related illnesses is staying well-hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid excessive consumption of caffeine, sugary drinks, and alcohol, as they can lead to dehydration.
  • Dress Smart: Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing. This will help your body breathe and cool down naturally. Don’t forget to wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your head and eyes from the sun. Wearing proper clothing can block or avoid direct sunlight or other heat sources
  • Modify Schedule: Whenever possible, try to schedule physically demanding tasks during the cooler parts of the day, usually early morning or late afternoon. If you must work in the sun, take frequent breaks in the shade or designated cooling areas.
  • Know Emergency Procedures: Become familiar with your companies emergency plan an actions that should be taken if someone shows signs of heat related illness.
  • Know the Signs: It’s essential to recognize the symptoms of heat illnesses. Heat exhaustion signs include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and headache. Heatstroke, a severe condition, may lead to confusion, unconsciousness, and hot, dry skin. If you or a coworker experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Look Out for Each Other: We are a team, and we look out for one another. If you notice a coworker showing signs of heat illness, don’t hesitate to offer assistance or notify a supervisor. Prompt action can make a significant difference in preventing severe complications.
  • Use Cooling Techniques: Take advantage of cooling techniques like using wet towels, fans, or portable cooling devices. These simple tools can help reduce body temperature and provide some relief from the heat.
  • Become Acclimatized: When dealing with extreme heat, your body needs time to adjust. Gradually increase the time spent in hot conditions, allowing your body to acclimate to the change. This approach helps minimize the risk of heat-related illnesses.
  • Use Sunscreen Protection: Don’t forget to apply sunscreen with a high SPF before going outside. Sunburn can contribute to heat stress, and protecting your skin is vital.

Preventing heat-related illnesses involves staying hydrated, avoiding prolonged exposure to extreme heat, taking breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas, wearing appropriate clothing, and acclimatizing gradually to hot conditions. If someone shows signs of a heat-related illness, it’s essential to seek medical attention promptly and move the person to a cooler place, offer water, and use cooling techniques until help arrives.

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