August 4, 2015
In the dead of winter, we long for the hot hazy days of summer. But when they arrive, they can be just as intolerable as an icy cold day. They can also have severe health implications.
Our bodies are designed to maintain an internal temperature of 37°C. Illness or external elements, such as the weather, working with hot machines, or wearing warm/protective clothes, can cause that temperature to rise and when it does, our bodies instinctively react to bring it back down. Sweat is one such function. When we sweat, the water evaporates from our skin in to the air causing a cooling effect. However, when it’s just too hot for the body to cool itself, heat related illnesses can result.
Heat Edema – swelling, particularly in the ankles.
Heat Rashes – red spots on skin that may cause a prickling sensation caused when the ducts of the sweat glands become blocked.
Heat Cramps – muscle pains that are usually the result of a salt imbalance. Cramps most often occur in people who drink a large amount of water to rehydrate without also taking in electrolytes.
Heat Exhaustion – can be very dangerous. It’s caused by a loss of water and salt through excessive sweating and can manifest in dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, tingling of hands and feet among other symptoms.
Heat Syncope – dizziness and fainting induced by a temporary insufficient flow of blood to the brain while a person is standing. It is caused by loss of body fluid and salt due to excessive sweating and lowered blood pressure due to the pooling of blood in the legs.
Heat Stroke – this is the most dangerous heat related illness. The internal body temperature will rise often rise to over 41°C when someone is experiencing heat stroke. Sweating may or may not be present. It can lead to a partial or complete loss of consciousness. Untreated heat stroke can lead to death.
If heat stroke is suspected call 9-1-1 immediately.
While you wait for help to arrive, follow the same protocol as for the other illness noted:
- Remove the person from the source of heat (ex. Move into shade)
- Remove clothing to help the body cool
- Use a cold cloth or ice on the skin particularly around the head, face, neck armpits, and groin areas
- Encourage them to drink cold water, juice, or a sports drink but do not force them to do so
Exposure to intense heat can impact a person’s mood, ability to concentrate, perform skilled and mental tasks, or do heavy work. Living in a temperature-controlled environment is not always possible so it is important for people to recognize the signs of heat related illnesses in their own body and of those around them and know how to provide treatment.
Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (www.ccohs.ca)
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