Anne Sheridan 2016

By Anne Sheridan, MATC coordinator, employee wellness and risk management

Heat illness can happen to anyone at any time, indoors or outdoors. When the body cannot dispose of excess heat, it stores it. When the heat is stored, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. Factors affecting a body’s core temperature are:

  • Air temperature
  • Humidity level
  • Air speed
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Fitness
  • Medical condition
  • Acclimatization to heat

The body reacts to high external temperature by circulating blood to the skin. Skin temperature rises and heat flows out through the skin. However, if muscles are being used for labor, less blood flow is available to the skin to reduce the heat. Sweating reduces the internal body temperature, but only if the humidity level is low enough to permit evaporation and if fluids and salts lost are replaced.

Types of Heat Illness

Heat rash is sometimes called “prickly heat.” It can occur in hot and humid environments where sweat is not able to be removed from the skin. The rash usually disappears when the person returns to a cool environment.

Fainting can be a problem for people who are not acclimated to heat. If you feel dizzy or faint, sit or lie down in a cool place. Slowly drink water, clear juice or a sports beverage.  It usually takes four to seven days of regular heat or cold exposure to become acclimated to the climate.

Heat cramps happen when performing physical activity in a hot environment. They occur most commonly in the arms and legs. Muscle cramping also can happen after the person has stopped working or exercising. Whenever you are physically active in a warm environment, you need to drink water every 15-20 minutes. Drinking an electrolyte replacement (such as Gatorade) can help.

Heat exhaustion places extreme stress on the body, especially the circulatory system. Possible symptoms include:

  • Flushed face and neck
  • Clammy skin
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Headache, dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea and vomiting

People suffering from heat exhaustion should not be left alone. Get them to a cool place to rest; remove excess clothing and rehydrate them with water or an electrolyte drink.

. The person will die if untreated. The survival rate is only 50 percent.

Heat stroke is the most serious stage of heat illness. The person will die if untreated. The survival rate is only 50 percent.

Symptoms are:

  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Red, hot and dry skin
  • Very little sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid pulse
  • Seizures
  • High body temperature (105 or higher)

Call 911 immediately. While waiting for help to arrive, get the person to a cool area, apply cool water to clothes and reapply as necessary.