Heat-related injuries or illness are caused by the overheating of your body. Heatstroke is the most severe, but other types include:
- Heat rash
- Heat syncope (fainting)
- Heat cramps
- Heat exhaustion
Causes of Heatstroke
Heatstroke is the most severe form of a heat-related injury. There are two main causes of heatstroke: non-exertional and strenuous activity.
It is possible to experience heatstroke simply by being exposed to a hot environment, even without performing any type of physically demanding activity or work.
This is caused by being in hot, humid weather or a hot environment that causes the core body temperature to rise to 104°F (40°C) or higher. Non-exertional heatstroke generally occurs to people who are in extreme heat for long periods of time.
People without functioning air conditioners in their homes or businesses when the outside temperatures are high are at a greater risk of experiencing this type of heatstroke.
Strenuous Activity Heatstroke
Many people are unaware that any physical activity while in the heat—whether seasonal or environmental—can increase the body’s core temperature and the risk for a heat-related injury or illness.
Those at greater risk are outdoor workers or people who perform work in hot environments, including near equipment that gives off heat Firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers and factory workers should be aware of this increased risk.
Several factors can increase your risk for heat-related injuries or illnesses.
Wearing clothing that prevents sweat from evaporating easily increases your risk for heatstroke. Your body is unable to cool itself through its typical process.
As you sweat, you need to replenish fluids. While working in hot, humid weather and in hot environments, it is important to stay hydrated.
By not replenishing fluids, you become dehydrated. Consuming alcohol while exposed to the heat can be an added danger. It not only dehydrates your body, but it also affects your body’s ability to regulate its own temperature.
This can play a pivotal role in your chances of developing heatstroke. Your body’s ability to cope in extreme heat depends on your central nervous system. Children who are very young do not have fully developed central nervous systems, and adults over age 65 have failing central nervous systems. Without a fully functional central nervous system to help adjust to extreme heat conditions, these age groups are at a greater risk for developing heatstroke.
Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can affect your body’s ability to maintain itself, disturbing your body’s ability to cool itself or remain properly hydrated. Consult your doctor to discuss these and other potential side effects of medications you’re currently taking or considering.
Signs and Symptoms of Heatstroke
The most common, well-known symptom of heatstroke is a high body temperature. When the core body temperature increases to 104°F (40°C) or higher, it’s hard for your body to maintain its normal functions. It can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, like your heart, kidneys and muscles throughout your body.
While high core body temperature is the most common symptom, there are other signs to look for when you are exposed to extreme heat conditions. People can also experience the following:
- Changes in mental status, including agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium and/or seizures.
- Changes in sweating – When people are hot, they sweat in order to help cool the body. Alterations in sweating can be indicative of heatstroke. Instead of sweating, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flushed skin
- Faster breathing
- Racing heart
- Loss of coordination
Seek Immediate Help
If you experience signs or symptoms of heatstroke you should seek immediate medical attention. Delaying medical treatment can lead to increased injury to your body, causing permanent damage or disability. This can increase the risk for serious complications that, in turn, can lead to death.
Best Practices to Prevent Heatstroke
When experiencing extreme heat conditions, there are measures you can take to help prevent heatstroke.
Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing
This allows your body to cool itself through sweat evaporation.
Protect yourself against sunburn
This could include wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, or apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Drink plenty of fluids
Ensure you are also replenishing the minerals and salts that are lost through sweat by drinking sports drinks in addition to water.
Take precautions with certain medications – Medications can affect your body’s ability to cope with high heat conditions. If you are at greater risk of heat-related injury or illness due to medications you are taking, consult with a supervisor before performing work in hot environments.
Avoid performing strenuous activities during the heat of the day – While this is sometimes out of our control, if you have to work during times of elevated temperature, take plenty of breaks, be sure that shade or air conditioning is available and you are staying hydrated.
Give your body the chance to acclimate to its surroundings. This often takes multiple days or weeks to become fully acclimated. If you are not used to high heat conditions, your body will likely not cope well to the situation.
Be aware of yourself and your capabilities, especially if you are at an increased risk of developing heatstroke due to additional risk factors mentioned above.
Never leave anyone in parked vehicle
This is the most common cause for heat-related death in children. When a vehicle is parked, whether in the sun or the shade, the temperature within the vehicle can increase by 20°F (6.7°C) within a 10-minute time period. It is never safe in warm or hot weather. Even if you are parked in the shade with the windows cracked, it remains a great danger.
Use the buddy system
When working in extreme heat conditions, do not do so alone. Monitor conditions of co-workers and have someone do the same for you. You can witness any changes to mental status and help them seek immediate medical attention if needed.
How ISN Can Help
Training on a documented Heat Illness Prevention Program can help employees identify the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and how to prevent them. ISN Hiring Clients can require these programs to be submitted by their contractors for review or can require their contractors to train employees on the topic.
If you are a current Hiring Client with ISN, ask your account team for information on our written program, training and supporting documents covering heat-related injuries and illnesses.
Are you a Hiring Client and interested to learn how ISN could help you manage your contractors and validate written programs like heat illness prevention? Request a demo of our contractor management system, ISNetworld.
If you are a contractor, ask your supervisor for a copy of your company’s heat illness prevention policies and programs to help avoid heat-related injuries, illnesses and incidents.