The Heat Is ON: Treatment & Prevention of Heat-Related Illnesses

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As summer approaches, whether we are at work or at home, we all need to be aware of the hazards associated with higher temperatures and exposure to the sun. Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S., so it’s important to learn the signs of heat-related illnesses, as well as how to treat and prevent them.

Sunburn, Heat Rash, Cramps: We’ve all experienced it; that red, tingling and burning sensation that tells us we’ve been exposed to the sun for too long. In the extreme, the sun can cause second degree burns (blistering), which can be the precursor to certain forms of skin cancer. Remember, if you’re going to be in the sun for long periods of time, keep your skin protected. Always use an effective sunscreen to protect exposed skin and wear clothing and hats that covers your head, arms and legs.

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Dehydration: Dehydration is a common problem in warmer weather and can lead to heat exhaustion. It’s very important to stay hydrated when working in higher temperatures. As we perspire we lose water and minerals needed to help our bodies regulate its internal temperature. Remember to drink fluids consistently as you work - don’t wait until you’re really thirsty.

Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is a condition that happens when the body's cooling system shuts down from lack of fluids. Symptoms include heavy sweating, cool moist skin, and a weak pulse. Heat exhaustion may cause you to feel weak, clumsy, confused or upset. If you notice yourself or a co-worker suffering from these symptoms, move yourself or them to a cool or shaded area, loosen or remove excess clothing, take in fluids, and fan and spray with cool water. Left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.

Heat Stroke: Heat stroke occurs when your body's internal thermostat can’t deal with the stress caused by the heat. In extreme temperatures, there may be little warning before a victim reaches this level. Symptoms include a lack of sweating (even though the person may have been sweating earlier), hot dry skin, and a rise in body temperature to 105° or higher. The victim may also become weak and confused, dizzy, nauseated, or even fall unconscious. Time is critical. Immediately activate EMS (call 911), or instruct a co-worker or bystander to do so. Cool the person by submerging them in water or pouring cold water over them. Fan the victim, and if he or she is still conscious, have them take small sips of water. Use whatever means available to cool them down quickly.

Warm weather and sunshine are things we all look forward to. But to stay safe and healthy, we need to be aware of the hazards and able to identify the signs and symptoms of too much of a good thing.