Heat stress (or heat exhaustion) is a condition that can potentially be life-threatening if it is not treated immediately. It occurs when the core body temperature becomes too hot due to dehydration. This reduces the body’s ability to cool itself dramatically. Essentially, if it’s not treated as a medical emergency, it can lead to heat stroke. Teaching yourself as well as your family, friends, and co-workers how to prevent heat stress can save your life.
Preventing this heat illness is the most sensible way to avoid heat stroke symptoms, which we’re about to explore in further detail. How do you know if you’re at an increased risk of heat stress? What are the warning signs? How can you prevent it? How can you keep your internal body temperature and avoid heat exhaustion? The key to all of this is a good Heat Stress Training program.
We’ll cover this and more!
Table of Contents
Who is Most at Risk For Heat Stress and Heat Strokes?
While heat exhaustion doesn’t discriminate, certain people can be more susceptible to the condition and a heat-related illness. These include:
- 65+, especially those who live by themselves or without air conditioning
- Pregnant women
- Nursing mothers
- Young children
- Those who already have existing medical issues, particularly lung disease, high blood pressure, and heart disease
- People who take certain medications, for example, for mental illness
What Causes Heat Exhaustion?
A variety of factors can cause heat exhaustion or heat-related illnesses. Here are some of the most common reasons:
The healthy body temperature for humans is around 37°C. We all know that the body cools via sweat secretion, which typically counts for 70-80% of our body’s heat loss.
When we become dehydrated, we don’t sweat as much as we need to, which causes our body’s core temperature to rise. Dehydration usually occurs after extreme workouts (especially in excess heat), drinking too much alcohol, severe vomiting or diarrhea, or taking certain medications. And, of course, the most obvious, after not drinking enough water.
Do you know what that means? Make sure you drink plenty!
The hottest part of the day is usually between 11 am and 3 pm. Spending too much time in direct sunlight, especially during heat waves or just general hot weather, can cause the body to develop heat exhaustion.
Lack of Airflow
Do you work in a hot environment with confined areas or poor ventilation? This could cause you to develop symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Crowded, Hot Conditions
If you’ve ever attended a large event, like a music festival or a sporting event, you’ll know that the conditions can often get a little crowded and, at many times, a little too hot. If you combine this with hot weather, you’re more likely to find yourself recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion.
Some recreational drugs like speed and ecstasy can raise the body’s temperature and cause dehydration. This can lead to a heat-related illness.
How to Prevent Heat Stress and Exhaustion
When there is a high heat index, staying indoors with sufficient air conditioning is recommended. However, if going outdoors is unavoidable, these preventative steps could help you to avoid heat-related illnesses:
Avoid excess clothing and instead wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. You should also wear light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat.
Wear sunscreen with 30 SPF or more.
Drink Enough Fluids
To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of water during the day. A sports drink is good for during or after workouts; however, during extreme heat, it can sometimes cause salt depletion. As a general rule of thumb, cool water is advised. (During cooler workouts, don’t be afraid to use sports drinks, though!)
Your doctor will be able to advise you on how much fluid you should be consuming per day. However, as a typical recommendation for those taking on medium to high-intensity workouts, 17-20 oz of water is ideal before exercise. During this, try and consume a further 7-10 oz every 20 minutes. And half an hour after exercising, try and drink another 8 oz.
It would help if you also avoided fluids containing caffeine and alcohol because these substances can make your body lose even more fluids and cause heat exhaustion to become more severe.
Get Used to the Heat
If you’re someone who spends the majority of their time within the comfort of AC and then you suddenly go on a 10K jog in immense heat or really humid weather, your body will obviously not be used to these kinds of conditions. Rather than going from one extreme to the other, it’s important to expose yourself gradually to the heat as the summer approaches. We actually have a full guide for Summer Safety Tips that you should check out.
Treatment For Heat Exhaustion
If you feel like your body temperature is rising and you have symptoms of heat exhaustion, the first thing you need to do is get out of any extreme heat and stay cool indoors. If indoor space is unavailable, you should find the shadiest and coolest place possible. Some other strategies include:
Take a cool shower or bath
Try and return your body temperature to normal by using ice or fans
If you do not see any improvement in the next 15 minutes, you will need to seek medical assistance because the symptoms could develop into more serious heat-related problems like heat stroke.
What are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke?
Now you know the symptoms of heat exhaustion, you need to be aware of what could happen if you develop another heat-related illness like heat stroke. While it may at first appear similar to heat exhaustion, some signs can differentiate both physically and mentally.
For example, the body’s ability to sweat may be reduced, the skin could appear dry, and you could experience confusion, start staggering, fit, collapse, and even become unconscious, which could affect the vital organs. And because heat stroke symptoms may vary, you’ll also want to look out for the following signs:
- An extremely high core temperature
- Dry, red, and hot skin
- A swollen, dry tongue
- Rapid pulse
- Confusion, nausea, dizziness
- Muscle cramps
- Severe headaches
- Heat cramps
- Pale skin
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
How to Prevent Heat Stress
Whether there’s a heat wave or just a spell of high temperatures, in order to avoid needing medical attention due to heat stroke, here’s what you can do:
Drink Enough Water
Again, the water consumption pops up! If this doesn’t scream importance to you, we don’t know what will. Try and limit your alcoholic drinks, and even if you’re not thirsty, try and get enough h20 in your system. (Avoid drinking really cold water as this can cause stomach cramps.)
If you know there will be high temperatures, and you want to avoid heat exhaustion that could lead to heat stroke, try and avoid unnecessary exercise and reduce your activity. If you need to exercise, try and wait until relative humidity levels or the weather has cooled. And obviously, whenever it’s possible, try and remain in the shade.
Keep the Air Circulating
Having a flow of cool, clean air circulating around you is so important for preventing a heat-related illness. Try and draw curtains and blinds as much as possible and use your Ac often. If you don’t have AC, try and visit public places that stay cool, like shopping centers.
Eat Smaller Meals
Eating smaller meals more often is a great way to prevent heat stroke, especially if they are cold meals like salad. If you carry excess weight, it’s also a good idea to make your portion sizes smaller, as when you are overweight, your body’s ability to regulate its temperature can be compromised. This, in turn, causes your body to retain more heat and eventually causes heat illness.
Look Out For Others
If you have family members, friends, or neighbors who may be more affected by the hot weather, make sure you check up on them at least once a day. Their body and other vital organs may not be as strong as yours, making them more at risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
You should also never leave pets, children, or older or vulnerable people in the car during hot weather. The lack of circulating air and other risk factors, including excess heat, could lead to them needing emergency medical help.
What to Do If Someone Has Heatstroke
Training your friends, family and co-workers on how to react in an emergency is important. Particularly at work, heat stress safety topics should teach your employees basic first aid, emergency protocol, etc. If someone you are with develops heatstroke, acting quickly is important. Here’s what you should do:
- Call an ambulance
- When you’re waiting for emergency medical help, take the person into a shady area where they can lie down and get cool.
- Remove unnecessary clothing, wet the person’s skin with water, and continuously fan them
- Don’t provide anything to drink.
- If the person is unconscious, put them in the recovery position and clear their airways
- If you can, monitor the person’s body temperature and use the cooling techniques to try and reduce it to below 38°C
- Don’t leave the person before the ambulance turns up – you’ll need to give them as much cooling as possible until experts can take over
- If medical attention is delayed, seek further assistance from the emergency staff
All of these things are critical when we are learning How to Prevent Heat Stress.
Heat Stroke and Heat-Related Illness Can Be Fatal
Any body that overheats over 40.5°C will start to shut down. When someone first gets hot, they will start sweating to help them maintain their body temperature. However, when heat exhaustion and dehydration sets in, the sweat reduces and the blood becomes too concentrated, leading to impaired organ function.
During heat stroke, the body can quickly suffer from tissue damage, so the temperature must be reduced as quickly as possible. Most people who suffer from this severe condition will experience serious changes to their nervous system, which can quickly result in seizures and comas. As well as this, liver, muscle, kidney, and heart damage can set it. In a worse-case scenario, heat stress can kill you.
Look After Your Body
So, if you want to enjoy the hot weather as the summer season approaches, it’s important that you respect it, rather than take advantage of it. Ensure you have taken all of the safety precautions necessary to prevent heat exhaustion and eliminate any of the risk factors mentioned above.
Your body needs you to survive, so staying safe in the sun is of major importance if you want to live a long and healthy life!