What is heat illness?
As the summer temperatures rise, everyone should know the answer to the question, “What is heat illness”. Our lives and health depend on it. We have all been stuck in the heat at one time or another. Most of the time it is an inconvenience but if caught off guard, that inconvenience could be a life-threatening occurrence. The CDC recently reported over 3,000 "excessive natural heat" deaths occurring between 2006 and 2010. These were people who were not able to help themselves or weren't aware of the severity of the heat illness they experienced. Let's take a look at the points below so we will know the signs of heat illness, what they mean, and how we can prevent them.
Signs of heat illness
The human body is amazing. It is designed to help cool itself when it overheats. Yes, the body normally cools itself by sweating. While Americans spend millions of dollars each year to prevent sweating, our bodies are designed to do just that. When we sweat, the body cools itself by allowing air to move across the sweat, causing evaporation, and helping cool the skin. It’s like a natural air conditioner. Excessive heat can overload the body’s ability to allow sweat to evaporate, leading to heat illness. Listed below are 5 symptoms related to heat illness. If you are over-heated and experience any of these symptoms, you could be experiencing heat illness.
- Sweating & rash
- Muscle spasms
- nausea & vomiting
- headache or lightheadedness
What happens to our body when exposed to excessive heat? Our bodies often tell us when something is physically wrong. In the case of heat illness, we see some of the symptoms listed above. Those are outward signs of heat illness. Inside our bodies, heat illness is causing the following:
- Brain - Chemicals in the brain get out of balance, impairing judgment and causing irritability
- Heavy sweating - leads to rashes and blocked sweat ducts reducing the ability for the body to sweat and naturally cool itself.
- Central Nervous System - Extreme heat slows down the brain, nerves, and spinal cord. Your system gets depressed causing us to feel lazy.
- Hyperthermia - Our body overheats causing spasms in our muscles. When we sweat, we sweat out sodium.
- Kidneys - vital body organs including the liver are affected. The kidneys expel toxins in the body through our urine but excessive heat causes the body to conserve these fluids in your body.
- Circulation - blood vessels get wider to help shed heat causing our blood pressure to drop. Our heart beats faster to try and move the blood but we don’t have more blood to pump. It’s like widening a river, the current (circulation) slows down.
What can we do to prevent heat illness?
In just about every case, heat illness can be prevented if we take the proper precautions. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, our body naturally cools itself by sweating. As we continue to sweat, our body sheds vital water. When this occurs, it is vital that the following points be followed to prevent heat illness from taking its toll.
- Drink fluids - As much as 75% of the body’s weight is made up of water.. keeping our bodies “topped off” with water or electrolyte drinks mixed with water will help keep our system hydrated, allowing our brain, circulatory, and muscles and vital organs to operate and help respond. Always drink plenty of water to keep your body fluids hydrated. If we don't drink fluids, we can't replenish the fluids that are lost from sweating or general dehydration.
- Rest - Resting allows our body to focus on rehydrating ourselves. Recovery can occur quicker as our system replenishes the needed fluids our bodies need. Physical exertion causes more strain on your body to supply blood and oxygen in a stressed environment. Let your body recover from the heat.
- Shade - The sun won't help cool your body. get out of the direct sun and under some shade. If possible, seek shelter where there is air conditioning. Shade will allow your body your body cool by getting out of the heat and rest in a cool place while you recover.
Summer heat doesn’t have to be a killer. Use common sense and be sure to stay hydrated. Watch for signs of heat illness and when you have identified any, take them seriously and respond accordingly.
Heat Relief Products & Accessories
MFASCO's Make a Kit Tool
Sweatband Disposable 100/pk
Medi Lyte Electrolyte Tablets (50 x 2)
Additional Resources for Heat Relief & Supplies
Heat Stress - Hydration & Why It's Important
Protecting Children From Heat-Related Illness
Workplace Summer Heat Relief