Beat the Heat

Beat the Heat

by Dave Van Zandt, CSCS, CEAS, Cert FCE

dehydrationIt’s summer! It’s hot! If you don’t take a few easy precautions while working or playing in the heat you could be headed for trouble. One of the biggest things to watch out for in the summer heat is heat illness.

Heat Illness

Heat illness is a major danger to be aware of during the summer. Did you know that the average person loses one quart of sweat per hour for approximately two hours? With the relative humidity at 65 percent, your ability to dissipate heat through sweat is severely impaired. When humidity is at 75 percent, that ability has all but ceased. Employees in an industrial setting where exposure to high temperatures can be an everyday occurrence should be aware of the risk of heat illnesses. When the body’s ability to dissipate heat becomes impaired, individuals are at risk of heart cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat cramps are caused by an electrolyte imbalance, nutrients that your body needs to perform work. Cramps most often occur in the abdomen and the calves and can be very painful. They can be treated with gentle ice massage, mild stretching, water and electrolyte replacement. Ignoring heat cramps can lead to a more severe condition known as heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion is due to an inadequate replacement of fluids. Weakness, profuse sweating, cool, pale skin, dizziness, hyperventilation and a rapid pulse characterized this condition. Someone who is suffering from these symptoms should immediately be moved to a cool environment. Replacement of fluids should begin immediately at a rate of four ounces every 15 minutes. If the appropriate steps aren’t taken to care for the condition, individuals can suffer from heat stroke which is potentially life threatening.

Heat stroke occurs when the body loses almost all ability to dissipate heat causing the core temperature to rise to extremely high temperatures. The condition is characterized by red and hot skin that is relatively dry, dizziness, lethargy and possible loss of consciousness. The longer the core temperature remains elevated, the greater the chance for permanent damage and even death. Treatment for heat stroke should include: immediately removing the victim from the hot environment, reducing body temperature by removing excess clothing, sponging their body with cold water (don’t immerse their entire body) and fanning the victim with a towel. Be sure the victim gets to an emergency medical facility as soon as possible!

Prevention Tips

The most common effect of hot and humid temperatures is industry is dehydration. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, injury, illness or even death. The best way to prevent dehydration is to be prepared.

Drink Plenty of cold water or electrolyte drinks prior to activity– Avoid beverages that contain caffeine. There should be unlimited access to cold water at all times. Electrolyte drinks shouldn’t be consumed during activity due to their tendency to slow down the emptying of the stomach. Also they draw fluids from the working muscles.

Acclimation– Prepare yourself for working in hot environments by pre-exposure to similar conditions.

Determine susceptibility– People with large muscle mass or who are overweight have an increased ability to generate body heat. Women generally have an increased ability to regulate body temperature and dissipate heat.

Clothing– Wear light clothing that allows the body to breathe.

Weight monitoring– Losing 3 percent to 5 percent of your body weight during activity increases your risk to be affected by heat complications.

Eat a proper diet– Well balanced meals containing relatively low fat are recommended.

Don’t be a victim of heat illness! Be aware of the environmental and physical factors that make you susceptible. Take the appropriate steps to prepare your body for working in the hot environment and recognize the possible health complications before they become serious.