It's hot! Do you know the signs of heat illness?

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Philip J. Washington
  • 88th Air Base Wing Ground Safety
It's a hot, humid Saturday afternoon. You've been soaking up the sun at the beach all day and playing soccer with your friends. You suddenly start to feel nauseous and weak. Your vision begins to tunnel. The next thing you know you wake up on a gurney in the emergency room. The doctor says you've been diagnosed with heat exhaustion. How did this happen?

From 1992-2006 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 423 health-related worker deaths and tens of thousands of near misses. Not surprisingly, they mostly involved people in construction and agricultural jobs, but they aren't the only people at danger. Others who fall into the high-risk category are: infants and young children (especially if left in a hot car), the elderly, those who consume alcohol and overweight people.

Heat illness can affect anyone at any time, but we're most vulnerable in the United States during the summer months. Other than temperature, humidity is one of the biggest factors in heat illness. That's because high humidity can prevent sweat from  evaporating, thus causing the body's cooling system to fail.

The two most common types of heat illness are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion occurs when you're exposed to high temperatures and the body can't cool itself sufficiently. You begin to dehydrate due to excessive sweating. Some symptoms include: nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps. Heat stroke typically occurs after you've reached the point of heat exhaustion. The problem is that you don't cool down. Basically, your core body temperature continues to rise, which could cause damage to your brain, kidneys and muscles.
Delaying emergency treatment can lead to severe complications and possibly death. If you think someone is suffering from heat exhaustion or stroke, call 911. Move the person to a cooler area and remove the outer clothing. Fan and mist the person with water, and provide cool drinking water.

Taking preventive measures is the key to avoiding heat illness. Supervisors are responsible for providing training. Other preventive measures include: making sure workers have access to water, paying attention to the heat index (temperature + humidity) and providing rest periods in shaded or air-conditioned areas.

We're in the middle of the Critical Days of Summer and it's important for us (individually and as supervisors) and friends to be able to prevent and identify heat illness and take appropriate action to prevent potential illness and mishaps. Check out pages 181-183 of the Airman's Manual. There's some good information in it!