How you can prevent heat illness this summer
Jun 02, 2014
Summertime is great for outdoor work and play. Whether you’re at home, on the farm, or in a park, it’s a good idea to be aware of the weather and temperatures. Grinnell Mutual recommends preparing for your time outside and listening to you body to help prevent heat illness during summer months.
Before you go outside
No matter how long you plan to be out in the sunshine, wear sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater), sunglasses rated to absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays, lightweight clothing made of breathable fabrics, and a hat. A wide-brimmed hat may help keep the sun off of your neck and ears.
"When you put the sunscreen on, make sure it has enough time to dry and that it has soaked in," said Julie Augustine, health and safety manager at Grinnell Mutual.
Bringing water with you may help you prevent dehydration.
"If you wait until you’re thirsty, you are dehydrated," said Augustine. "Drink water frequently— just good old-fashioned water. Weak tea would be a good second choice, but not juices or sodas. I got in the habit of having a jug by all my gardening tools so when I get my garden gloves and my little spades then I have a reminder to have water, too."
Listen to your body
Overexertion accounts for about 3.3 million emergency room visits per year in the United States and symptoms can be heightened in the heat. As you work and play in the summer sun, try to take regular water breaks. It may also help to seek shade during breaks, too.
"If it’s really one of those hot, steamy days, one way to get your body acclimated from air conditioning to an outdoor activity is to plan your work," said Augustine. "Don’t jump right in to moving the railroad ties in the direct sun. Instead, do some yard work in the shade or part shade and then work up to the strenuous activity to help your body get acclimated to the demands you’re placing on it and the outdoor conditions."
Helping someone with a heat illness
Hot, humid, and sunny weather taxes the body. The combination of dehydration, loss of salts, and increasing body temperatures may cause a heat illness.
"There are two levels to heat illness," said Augustine. "Heat exhaustion is the first level. That’s where somebody is sweating heavily, feeling weak or tired, dizzy, or nauseated. The person may also have muscle cramps and clammy skin."
To treat heat exhaustion, start by getting rest.
"Get in air conditioning or get in shade," said Augustine.
Next, start drinking water. The National Safety Council also recommends cooling someone affected by heat exhaustion by removing outer layers of clothing. If it’s not possible to immerse that person in a pool or bath, then apply ice bags or cold packs to the neck, armpits, and groin to help reduce body temperature.
When you get to heatstroke, the symptoms are more extreme.
"They’re stroke symptoms, in a nutshell," said Augustine. "Because of the elevated body temperature, the skin is really hot and dry. Someone with heat stroke could also have chills, throbbing headaches, hallucinations, confusion, or slurred speech."
If someone with you shows signs of heat stroke, you can help by doing the following:
- Call 911.
- Move the person to a cool place and remove outer clothing.
- Immediately cool the person with any means at hand. Apply ice bags or cold packs beside the neck, armpits and groin.
- Do not give the person anything containing caffeine or alcohol.
- Be ready to provide CPR if breathing stops.
"Don’t leave the person cooking in the sun," said Augustine. "Get into the shade, try to cool him or her, and call 911. You just need more help than what you can probably handle yourself."