Whether it is fun in the sun, household chores or outside work duties, the southern Arizona sun doesn’t always cooperate in people’s favor.
The best defense to prevent a heat or sun related injury, during work or play, is prevention and awareness of the signs and symptoms when an injury may be occurring.
Consider the heat category, exertion level, acclimatization and exposure time while spending time outdoors. Adjusting or controlling these factors will reduce the chance of heat or sun injuries.
Fort Huachuca and the surrounding communities are at a higher elevation, which puts people in this area closer to the sun than those at lower elevations. Protect yourself by applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor rated 30 or higher 30 minutes before exposure to the sun and reapply every two hours throughout the day.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect the eyes, head and neck, and lightweight clothing that cover the arms, legs and torso.
Wear wraparound eyewear to prevent direct contact with the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Those who wear daily eyeglasses should use transitional lenses to protect the eyes.
When possible, work and rest in the shade. Create a shaded area with a canopy or open tent. Dan Orta, Fort Huachuca’s installation safety director, explained that the sun is the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. but it is still harmful outside of that time span. “In most cases, even [4 p.m.] is still hot … I would say to take it a little bit further, at least to [6 p.m.],” he said.
If experiencing skin rashes or sunburn, seek medical attention.
Hydration is extremely important in high heat categories. Monitor and enforce frequent hydration, according to the “Fluid Replacement and Work/Rest Guide” found at http://phc.amedd.army.mil. Encourage frequent hydration, however, do not exceed 1.5 quarts of fluid per hour.
Hydration levels can be assessed by the amount, color and concentration of urine. Low volumes of dark, concentrated urine may indicate a need for immediate re-hydration.
Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages, especially when performing intense activity. These liquids make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat injuries. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink water.
Heat cramps, exhaustion and stroke are common forms of heat related injuries.
Heat cramps are painful muscle contractions caused by a loss of body salt through excessive sweating and dehydration. Stretching and replacing fluids and electrolytes can relieve them.
Heat exhaustion can occur when the body produces more heat than it can release. Signs of heat exhaustion include weakness, headaches, extreme fatigue, nausea and wet, clammy skin.
Those who experience or notice any of these signs or symptoms should stop all physical activity and rest in a shaded area. Take small sips of water and call 911.
A heat stroke, the most dangerous heat injury, is caused by the body’s inability to maintain control of its heat. Symptoms include a decrease or stoppage of sweating, a rise in body temperature, convulsions, and the most common sign, a change in mental status.
Those who notice any of these symptoms in another person should immediately call 911, lay the individual down in a shaded area and elevate their feet. To lower their body temperature, undress them as much as possible, apply ice packs to their body, pour cool water on them, and fan them.
If they are conscious, give them small sips of water. Monitor their airway and breathing until an ambulance arrives. Brain damage and death could result if treatment is delayed, so take action quickly but calmly.
“Heat injuries can also be caused due to[two to three] cumulative days of being exposed to high temperatures,” Orta said. “One way to avoid this is by ensuring you get plenty of rest the day before training or working outdoors and try not to work outdoors continuously.”
For those new to the Arizona weather, Orta recommends people ease into the change of weather. Those who are not used to the sun and arid climate should allow 10 – 14 days to become adequately acclimated.
For more information on heat and sun injuries, refer to the U.S. Army Public Health Command website, http://phc.amedd.army.mil/Pages/default.aspx, or contact the Installation Safety Office, 533.3697.