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Posted on: June 23, 2022

Beat the Heat: Learn the Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness

Heat exhausion

The human body is normally able to regulate its temperature through sweating, until it is exposed to more heat than it can handle. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can escalate rapidly, leading to delirium, organ damage and even death. In 2019, 884 people died and 2,061 were injured in the U.S. from exposure to excessive heat, according to Injury Facts

People most at risk include:

  • Those who work in the heat
  • Infants and young children, especially if left in hot cars
  • People 65 and older
  • People who are ill, have chronic health conditions or are on certain medications
  • People who are overweight

If your job requires you to work outside in hot weather, take precautions to minimize the risk of heat-related illnesses. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends:

  • Work shorter shifts until workers have adjusted to the heat
  • Stay hydrated and drinking before you get thirsty
  • Watch for co-workers exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion or heat strokeHeat stroke
  • Take time to rest and cool down

Knowing the symptoms and proper response to the following illnesses can save a life. 

Heat Exhaustion

When the body loses excessive water and salt, usually due to sweating, heat exhaustion can occur. According to the free NSC First Aid Quick Reference app, signs and symptoms include:

  • Pale, ashen or moist skin
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Fatigue, weakness or exhaustion
  • Headache, dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate

Uncontrolled heat exhaustion can evolve into heat stroke, so make sure to treat victims quickly:

  • Move victims to a shaded or air-conditioned area
  • Give water or other cool, non-alcoholic beverages
  • Apply wet towels or have victims take a cool shower

Heat Stroke

Seek medical help immediately if someone is suffering from heat stroke. Signs include:

  • Body temperature above 103 degrees
  • Skin that is flushed, dry and hot to the touch; sweating has usually stopped
  • Rapid breathing
  • Headache, dizziness, confusion or other signs of altered mental status
  • Irrational or belligerent behavior
  • Convulsions or unresponsiveness

Immediately take action:

  • Call 911
  • Move the victim to a cool place
  • Remove unnecessary clothing
  • Immediately cool the victim, preferably by immersing up to the neck in cold waterHeat stroke yard work
  • If immersion in cold water is not possible, place the victim in a cold shower or move to a cool area and cover as much of the body as possible with cold, wet towels
  • Keep cooling until body temperature drops to 101 degrees
  • Monitor the victim's breathing and be ready to give CPR if needed

DO NOT:

  • Force the victim to drink liquids
  • Apply rubbing alcohol to the skin
  • Allow victims to take pain relievers or salt tablets

The best way to avoid heat-related illness is to limit exposure outdoors during hot days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Air conditioning is the best way to cool off
  • Drink fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty; avoid alcohol
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing and a hat
  • Replace salt lost from sweating by drinking fruit juice or sports drinks
  • Avoid spending time outdoors during the hottest part of the day, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Wear sunscreen; sunburn affects the body's ability to cool itself
  • Pace yourself when you run or otherwise exert your body

Keep Each Other Safe

Check on neighbors who are elderly, house-bound or otherwise may be reluctant to ask for help. Invite them to your air-conditioned home on hot days, drive them to a local cooling center, call relatives or contact city services to arrange for assistance.

Heat safety graphic H20 logo (002)Sources

Injury Facts – injuryfacts.nsc.org
National Safety Council – nsc.org
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – cdc.gov/niosh
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – cdc.gov

Contact Senior Risk Analyst Tim Billingham if you have job-related safety questions.

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