What is it?
The human body can sometimes be compared to a machine. If overworked for too long in a hot environment, the body may overheat and stop working. Heat stress and heat related illnesses are common for individuals whose work is constantly outdoors (such as professional athletes, construction workers, fire fighters, etc). It can prove to be an occupational hazard, as excess heat can cause dizziness or blurred vision. People who are over the age of 65, are overweight, have a medical history of heart disease or high blood pressure may be more at risk for heat related illnesses. Often times, even children playing in the sun for long periods of time in summer may contract heat related illnesses, such as dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat strokes.
There are several different types of heat related illnesses, and below are several of the more common types:
Heat rashes are common skin irritations that are caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. They may look like small clusters of red blemishes, and can be itchy. Treatment of heat rash includes keeping the affected area dry, or using some baby powder to lessen the irritation.
On hot days, the body will produce sweat in an effort to diffuse heat. In the process, water will be lost, so it is important to hydrate often and replace lost fluids. Considered the mildest form of heat related illness, signs and symptoms of dehydration may include:
- Dry mouth
- Excessive fatigue
Treatment for dehydration includes moving the person into a shaded, cool area, and replenishing his or her fluids.
Heat cramping is the result of exercising or working in the heat for too long, and large amounts of fluid and salt has been lost from sweating. Symptoms include:
- Intense pain or cramping not associated with muscle straining
- Constant muscle contractions during and after exercising
Also a mild form of heat related illness, heat cramps can be relieved by light stretching or massaging the cramped muscles. Be sure to also move to a shady, cool area, and drink sports drinks to replenish lost sodium and water.
Heat exhaustion sets in when an individual continues to be physically active after experiencing symptoms of dehydration or heat cramps. Symptoms include:
- Loss of coordination
- Dizziness or fainting
- Excessive sweating and/or pale skin
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Persistent muscle cramps and/or intestinal cramps
If an individual is experiencing any of these symptoms, immediately move him or her to a shaded and cool area. Cool the individual with cold water or towels, and remove any clothing that may cause more heat. If the symptoms do not get better or there is little improvement, seek emergency care right away.
This is a severe heat related illness that happens when a person's body generates more heat than it can release due to intense physical exertion in a high temperature environment. This is a serious medical condition that needs immediate medical condition, or it may lead to permanent disability or death. Symptoms may include:
- Increase in core body temperature above 104 F
- Altered consciousness, confusion, hallucinations
- Seizures and/or chills
- Slurred speech
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Headache, dizziness
- Weakness and exhaustion
- Hot and wet skin
- Abnormal heart rate, blood pressure or breathing
It is critical to seek immediate medical attention if any of these signs or symptoms appear. While waiting for medical care, start to cool the effected individual by moving him or her into a cool, shady area and soaking clothes in cool water.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the general rule of thumb in heat illness prevention is three simple words: water, rest, shade. Here are some more tips on how to prevent heat related illnesses:
- Drink water often
- Take breaks from the sun or heat in cool, shady areas
- Limit heat exposure
- Seek shade at all times
- Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing
- Avoid sugary drinks or drinks with caffeine or alcohol, as they have a dehydrating effect
- Work or play sports indoors with an air conditioner if the temperature is too high outside
- Report heat symptoms early and seek immediate medical attention.