Summer is here and it arrived overnight, without any warning. Pretty soon we will be saying “Wow, what a scorcher!”
You know the days are going to be a hot, some over 108 degrees Fahrenheit. At work, you reach for a tool to finish your job and start to feel lightheaded. It is probably because you have not eaten much this morning. You can make it until lunch! So you press on with your work.
Time passes and your condition has not gotten any better – in fact it is worse! Your breathing has increased, you are sweating profusely and your mouth is dry. Something is wrong! You start to climb down from where you are working but you are almost too weak to move. You feel like you are going to be sick. With no control over your movements, you fall to the ground below. Your co-workers are trying to get your attention but you cannot understand them. You yell, “Help me up guys!” but they don’t respond. Can they hear? All you can see is black…what’s happening? Heat Exhaustion! That is what’s happening.
Heat exhaustion can occur when you are subjected to hot environments and fail to take in enough fluids, salts or both. And even worse, this can lead to a life threatening condition known as a heat stroke. Sun stroke or heat stroke happens when the body’s internal mechanism fails to regulate its core temperature. At this point, the body stops cooling itself through perspiration and can’t get rid of excess heat. Unfortunately, the end result can be death if the body temperature is not lowered immediately! So, if you work in hot environments, it is critical to recognize when you are suffering from a Heat Stress Disorder.
Symptoms of Heat Stress Disorders:
- Heat Cramps – Symptoms are painful spasms of the muscles. Heat cramps are caused when workers consume large quantities of water but fail to take in enough salt to replace the salt their body lost through sweating. Tired muscles are most susceptible to cramping.
- Heat Exhaustion – Symptoms for this disorder are moist, clammy, pale skin; profuse sweating; extreme weakness or fatigue; dry mouth; dizziness; fast pulse; rapid breathing; muscle cramps and nausea.
- Heat/Sun Stroke – Symptoms are a very high body temperature (104F or higher); lack of sweat; mental confusion, delirium, or hallucinations; deep breathing and rapid pulse; hot, dry, red or mottled skin; and dilated pupils. Seek medical help at once for this condition.
Tips for Prevention:
- Acclimatization – Adjust yourself to the heat through short exposure periods followed by longer exposure until your body is accustomed to the heat. It may take 5-7 days of hot weather exposure before the body undergoes changes that make heat more bearable.
- Drink lots of Water/Liquids – Replenish the fluid your body is losing through sweating. Not only water, but critical electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and calcium are lost through sweating, so consider using electrolyte drinks to combat heat related disorders.
- Education – Know the signs and symptoms of heat stress disorders and act quickly.
- Use Your Head – Do not ignore possible symptoms of heat stress disorders. If you feel very hot, dizzy, nauseous or if your muscles cramp, stop and cool off!
Heat Stress Disorders are serious. Workers who have ignored the symptoms have lost their lives. Humans have an ingenious system for regulating body temperature, their very own personal, “natural” air conditioner. We sweat, it evaporates through our skin, and we are cooled off. But this personal air conditioner can fail, and often does, if we overexert when environmental temperatures are high.
Be Cool. Know what you have to do to beat the heat!