Staying Safe When the Weather's Hot
When it’s hot out and you can't be hunkered down in an air-conditioned oasis, a little care can help you prevent becoming ill from heat.
Heat illnesses are serious medical conditions that result from the body's inability to cope with a particular heat load. They include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, and heat stroke.
In high heat, these conditions can develop rapidly and it isn’t always obvious when they’re becoming life-threatening.
The smartest thing you can do is to respect any discomfort or symptoms you experience when working in the heat. Be aware that symptoms of heat illness can occur even after you’ve stopped working for the day, so don’t ignore them even if you’re enjoying an ice cream cone after dinner with a fan blowing on you.
Here are some of the unpleasant things heat can do to our bodies, in order of seriousness.
Heat Rash (Prickly Heat)
Heat rash is skin irritation caused by excessive sweating and clogged pores during hot, humid weather.
- Can cover large parts of the body
- Looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters
- Often occurs on the neck, chest, groin, under the breasts, or in elbow creases
- Uncomfortable enough to disrupt sleep and work performance
- Can be complicated by infection
Heat cramps affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. Sweating makes the body lose salts, fluids and minerals. If you replace only the fluids and not the salts and minerals, painful muscles cramps may result.
- Painful muscle spasms in the stomach, arms, legs, and other body parts. May occur after work or at night.
Fainting (Heat Syncope)
If you stand for long periods or suddenly get up from a sitting or lying position when working in the heat, you may become dizzy or faint. This is caused by a lack of adequate blood supply to the brain. Dehydration and not being acclimated to work in warm or hot environments can increase susceptibility. Victims normally recover consciousness rapidly after they faint.
- sudden dizziness
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and the salt contained in sweat. Cool skin temperature doesn’t necessarily indicate that body temperature is normal - although the skin may feel cool, the internal body temperature may be dangerously high.
- Heavy sweating
- Painful muscle cramps
- Extreme weakness or fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or headache
- Body temperature normal or slightly high
- Pulse fast and weak
- Breathing fast and shallow
- Clammy, pale, cool, or moist skin
Heatstroke is usually fatal unless you get emergency medical treatment right away.
- No sweating because the body can no longer release heat
- Mental confusion, delirium, convulsions, dizziness
- Hot and dry skin (e.g., red, bluish, or mottled)
- Muscles may twitch uncontrollably
- Pulse can be rapid and weak
- Throbbing headache, shallow breathing, seizures
- Unconsciousness and coma
- Body temperature may range from 102° - 104° F or higher within 10-15 minutes
Preventing Illness Due to Heat
Here are some of the things we can do to beat the heat.
Wear appropriate clothing. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. (Some consider sunglasses to be the epitome of cool.)
Take advantage of A/C. Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, they won’t prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. To keep your home cooler, use your stove and oven less.
Pace yourself. Cut down on exercise during the heat. If you’re not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or into the shade and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.
Avoid hot and heavy meals. They increase your body temperature.
Get plenty of fluids. Drink fluids regardless of how active you are. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
- Warning: If your doctor limits your fluid intake, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
- Stay away from alcoholic and very cold drinks. Alcohol actually causes you to lose body fluid. And very cold drinks can cause stomach cramps.
Replace salt and minerals. Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. A sports drink can replace them.
- If you’re on a low-salt diet, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports drink or taking salt tablets.
Check for updates. Check your local news for extreme heat alerts and safety tips and to learn about cooling shelters in your area.
Know the signs. Learn the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and how to treat them.
Use a buddy system. When you're working in the heat, monitor the condition of the people you’re with and have someone do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness.
If you’re 65 or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know someone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.
Monitor those at high risk. Although anyone can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk:
- Infants and young children
- People 65 or older
- People who are overweight
- People who overexert themselves during work or exercise
- People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation
WHAT YOU EAT AND DRINK CAN HELP YOU STAY HYDRATED
Body-cooling food and drinks - and not just frozen desserts - can help prevent heat-related illness. Any food or drink that contains a lot of fluid can be hydrating.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources of fluid. Bite into some juicy melon, berries, oranges, grapes, cucumbers or celery. Olives, pickles, and broth-based soups can also help you stay hydrated. And ice pops and sorbet can help you stay cool, but you knew that already.
Beverages, no surprise, are good choices, too. The fluid in juice, milk, tea, and coffee can help your body remain properly hydrated, even if they contain caffeine. Even sugar-sweetened beverages can be as hydrating as water.
So when it’s hot out, remember you can reach for your favorite fluid-filled food or beverage to cool you off and keep you hydrated in the heat.
J.J. Keller Safety Department
Seo, Hannah, “The Foods That Keep You Hydrated”, The New York Times online, July 5, 2022.