Health & Safety

July 6, 2018

Prevent heat stress, be alert to signs

56th Fighter Wing Safety Office
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Whether at work or play, people all over the world find themselves exposed to a wide variety of harsh climates. One of these climates is extreme heat.

Prior to engaging in work or recreational activities that may expose a person to extreme heat, there are a few things of which people should be aware. One of these is to take precautionary measures to avoid any unfortunate heat-related mishaps. Another is being able to identify symptoms of heat-related illness.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, it is estimated that 385 Americans die annually and thousands more suffer from some form of heat-related illness. However, there are a few ways people can protect themselves from falling into one of these statistical categories:

• Drink large quantities of water even if you don’t feel thirsty. Hydration is critical to a person’s survival in hot climates.

• Limit exposure to the heat as much as possible.

• Wear light-colored and lightweight clothing that offers adequate ventilation.

• Avoid drinking diuretics such as alcohol, carbonated beverages or caffeine.

• Limit participation in strenuous activity as much as possible; if this is unavoidable take frequent rest breaks.

In warmer climates it is not uncommon to hear weather people on the radio or television talking about a strange little thing known as the heat index. This is basically a measurement of how hot it will be during a specific time frame when the humidity in conjunction with the temperature is taken into consideration. The potential for experiencing a heat-related illness is closely related to the rise and fall of the heat index. It is always a good idea to find out what the projected heat index will be prior to being exposed to high temperatures. Think of it as checking for a hurricane before going deep-sea fishing.

There are a number of different heat-related disorders, but the two that are generally the most dangerous are heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is very dangerous and holds the highest potential for death. Depending on the severity of the heat stroke the duration of medical treatment may be as short as a few hours or as long as up to a year. People that fall into the high-risk category such as the elderly, young children and the overweight should take even greater precautions before subjecting themselves to high temperatures.

The following symptoms generally precede a heat stroke:

• Abdominal cramps/muscle cramps

• Nausea/vomiting

• Headache/dizziness/weakness

• Heavy or nonexistent perspiration

People experiencing the onset of heat stroke will experience neurological symptoms. These may include:

• Odd or bizarre behavior

• Irritability

• Delusions/hallucinations

• Seizures

• Coma

With fast medical attention heat stroke and heat exhaustion, depending on the severity, can be treated with a high success rate. The key thing to remember is, regardless of the activity, the mission or event will never be accomplished if the people doing it do not remain healthy and alive. Watch out for the people around you and take care of yourself.

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