August Injury Prevention

Stages of heat stress and prevention tips

August is typically the hottest month of the year, and this year is no exception. Several dangers exist to being out in the heat, especially if the preventative basics of personal heat protection aren’t followed.

Do you know the four stages of heat stress and how to recognize them?
  • Heat rash: prickly, itchy rash
  • Heat cramps: muscle spasms in the arms, legs and stomach due to a loss of electrolytes from sweating
  • Heat exhaustion: warning signs include fatigue, headache, nausea, giddiness, rapid pulse and fainting
  • Heat stroke: the most severe form of heat stress; characterized by hot, dry skin, confusion, convulsions, a lack of sweating and the possibility of rapid unconsciousness

Each of the four levels has its own set of symptoms and treatments.
  • Heat rash is the first sign of an impending problem with heat stress. Often thought of as more of a nuisance, heat rash is uncomfortable and itchy, but it is also a warning sign that the body is reducing its ability to sweat and to tolerate heat. Keep the rash clean and dry, and use calamine lotion or other soothing lotions for relief of the itching.
  • Heat cramps are treated by giving electrolytes like those in sports drinks, as well as finding a cool area in either the shade or in air conditioning. The muscle cramps seen at this level are due to losing electrolytes that the body needs to regulate temperature.
  • Heat exhaustion is due to the body being dehydrated and rising internal temperature. A person experiencing heat exhaustion should be kept cool and provided water or electrolytes.
  • Heat stroke is the most severe level of heat stress and requires emergency care. The internal body temperature can rise to more than 104 degrees very rapidly due to the body’s inability to sweat and regulate temperature. The person can go into shock, requiring CPR or hospitalization. It is important to call 911 when these signs are present.

Signs of impending heat stress include:
  • Outside temperatures rising, increasing stress on the body
  • Being tired, irritable and having difficulty  maintaining attention
  • Onset of muscle cramps

These are all signs the body is having difficulty controlling its temperature.

Risk factors for heat-related problems include:
  • Being overweight
  • Being physically unfit
  • Having a heart condition
  • Being unaccustomed to summer temperatures

If you have any of these risk factors, you should consult your physician and follow his or her advice on being in the heat.

Now that you know what risk factors to watch for, consider the following preventative measures to avoid potential heat issues:
  • Drink plenty of water even if you aren’t thirsty
  • Take short breaks in a cool or shaded area
  • Avoid being outside in the hottest part of the day whenever possible
  • Follow all work-related safety rules when working outdoors
  • Be alert to your body signals that may alert impending heat stress
  • Wear light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat
  • Avoid beverages with caffeine or alcohol since they promote dehydration

Once you have had heat stress, it is not uncommon to experience it again. The body is sensitive to temperature changes, so follow the preventative measures and improve your ability to handle during this very hot summer.

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