Heat Illness and Recognizing Signs of Heat Stroke

Posted on August 25, 2015 by 1 Comment

The Heat Is On

Whether you’re outside laboring in scorching weather or in a hot indoor environment, working in the heat is unavoidable for many contractors, especially for those located in southern part of the United States. Heat can cause a variety of workplace injuries as the result of sweaty palms, hot surfaces, or fogged up glasses. More perilous, however, is the risk of heatstroke, a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition. Despite these dangers, it’s a fact that deadlines still need to be met and jobs still need to be done well. Knowing some basic warnings and tips about heat exposure may help you avoid heatstroke while you’re on the job and the heat is on.

The Heat Index

Before you leave for the work day, you should check the forecasted temperature, paying particular attention to the Heat Index (HI). The Heat Index, also known as The Apparent Temperature or Perceived Temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. We’ve all heard the phrase: “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”  This is very true because human body is designed to regulate heat by perspiration. When sweat is released on the surface of the skin, it evaporates and it effectively cools the skin’s surface. However, in very humid weather the sweat does not evaporate as quickly and your body is unable to regulate heat as effectively. Therefore, the greater the humidity, the warmer the human body feels. This direct relationship between relative humidity and air temperature is recorded as Heat Index. For example, a temperature of 90 degrees in the desert is not going to feel as hot as 90 degrees in a subtropical landscape. Using your computer or mobile device, it only takes a few seconds to find out how hot it’s actually going to feel on a given day. Knowing the Heat Index before you ever leave the house can help you avoid heat stroke.


Heat stroke, sometimes referred to as “sun stroke,” is the most serious form of injury sustained by heat. During a heat stroke, a person’s core temperature rises to 105 degrees Fahrenheit or greater and their temperature system begins to fail. Heat Stroke is the result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures and is generally combined with dehydration. It can cause permanent damage to the brain and other internal organs and can even be deadly. People over the age of 50 are the most at risk for heat stroke, but younger people are also still susceptible. While heatstroke may occur without any previous signs of heat stress, there are generally several symptoms to watch out for.

The Symptoms of a Heat Stroke Include the Following

  • Fainting is a common indicator of heat stroke, but other symptoms may include the following:
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Throbbing Headache
  • Rash or dry skin that is hot and red
  • Body ceasing to produce sweat despite the heat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cramps or muscle weakness
  • Shallow, rapid breath
  • Rapid heartbeat that may be weak or strong
  • Changes in behavior such as disorientation, confusion, or staggering
  • Seizures

Treating Heat Stroke

Most importantly, if you believe that someone is having a heat stroke then you need to call 911 immediately and/or take the person to a hospital. Delays in seeking medical attention may prove fatal for a heat stroke victim. If you have already called 911 and are waiting for the paramedics to arrive, then you should perform cooling strategies. First, the person should first be relocated to an air-conditioned or cool area and any unnecessary clothing should be removed to promote cooling of the core body temperature. If ice packs are available, apply them to the victim’s neck, groin, back, and armpits. These areas on the body are rich with blood vessels that are close to the skin and may help reduce the core body temperature via regular circulation. You can also fan cool air over the patient’s body while wetting his or her skin or immerse the heat stroke victim in a shower or bathtub full of cool water.

How to Prevent Heat Stroke

In an ideal world, the best rule of thumb to prevent heat stroke is to stay indoors when the heat index is high. However, we don’t live in an ideal world and more often than not the heat is on to get the job done no matter what the temperature is. If you do have to work outdoors here are a few steps you can take to prevent this from ruining your day:

  • Use sunscreen to with an SPF factor of at least 30.
  • Wear lightweight, loose fitting and light colored clothing.
  • Drink more fluids than usual. One major factor when it comes to heat stroke is dehydration. In order to prevent dehydration you should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Heat related illnesses are also a common occurrence when the body’s salt becomes depleted, so drinking electrolyte-rich sports drinks will also help you stay hydrated in extreme heat and humidity.
  • The color of your urine can indicate whether or not your body is getting enough hydration. Darker color urine is a clear sign of dehydration. Ensure that your urine is lighter in color by drinking enough hydrating fluids.
  • Try to avoid fluids that contain caffeine or alcohol, both of those substances can worsen heat-related illnesses by making you lose more fluids.

Recovering From a Heat Stroke

If you’ve recently had a heat stroke your body will probably be more sensitive to high temperatures for about a week following the episode. It’s better to avoid hot weather or heavy exercise until you are cleared by a doctor to return to your normal activities.

-Written by Dane Gustafson

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