Take Steps to Avoid Heat-Related Illness

As summer begins and the mercury rises, so does an individual’s chance of developing heat stress. Heat stress is the name given to a number of heat-related illnesses that can result when a person is exposed to extreme heat or works in a hot environment.

Heat stress, including illnesses like heat stroke and heat exhaustion, occurs when your body can’t compensate for the heat and properly cool you off. High humidity levels play a factor in developing heat stress, but these illnesses can also occur in dry heat. Age, weight, circulation, prescription drug and alcohol use, and a host of other factors also play a role in how well your body is able to cool itself.

“Whether someone is enjoying a walk on the beautiful River’s Edge Trail or working all day outside, it is essential that they understand the signs and symptoms of heat stress and know what they can do to prevent this potentially serious illness,” says Alicia M. Thompson, Health Officer for CCHD.

The most common signs and symptoms of heat stress are elevated body temperature, weakness and fatigue, confusion, dizziness, and lightheadedness. The risk can be reduced by following these tips:

  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing
  • Gradually build up to heavy work
  • Do strenuous work during the coolest parts of the day
  • Take more breaks in extreme heat
  • Drink plenty of water—avoid caffeinated, alcoholic, or sugary beverages

If an individual suspects heat stress, they should immediately rest in the shade and hydrate with water, clear juice, or a sports beverage. Consider a cool bath or being sprayed with water. If symptoms are severe or persistent, seek medical attention immediately.

Children also should be protected from heat stress. Make sure they stay hydrated, and save outdoor play activities for morning and evening when temperatures are not so high. It’s hard to keep young children inside all day though, so consider a trip to the pool or a run through the sprinkler. NEVER leave children in a vehicle, and use caution with play equipment, as it can get hot enough to cause burns.

It’s also important to remember to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Even on cloudy or overcast days, the sun’s rays can still cause harm. Use at least an SPF 15 sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses, and stay in the shade whenever possible.

For more information on heat stress, its symptoms, and how to avoid and treat it, call CCHD at 454-6950 or visit www.cchdmt.gov