Heat illness awareness and prevention
By Heather Tyndall
GCU Environmental, Health & Safety Department
Arizona’s summer heat is unprecedented, and as residents of this wonderful state we should take precautions against heat stress and illness.
Symptoms of heat-related illness can happen quickly and can turn deadly without intervention. Heat-related illness occurs when the human body is incapable of maintaining a normal temperature; in extreme cases, this can lead to death.
A few factors that can affect your risk of developing heat illness are:
- Temperature and relative humidity (heat index)
- Direct sun exposure
- Poor physical condition or health problems
- Alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Missed meals
- Some medications, such as blood pressure pills or antihistamines
According to the National Weather Service, there are an average of 673 deaths because of heat per year. With Arizona being one of the hottest places on earth from May to September, it comes as no surprise that heat-related deaths are all too common. In 2018, Arizona experienced 381 heat-related deaths, all of which were preventable.
The information below will help you stay safe in the Arizona heat.
Did you know that hydration starts the night before? This is doubly true for those who will be exerting themselves or spending time in the sun.
To prevent heat illness or injury: drink 8-10 ounces of water every 15 minutes. Drink before, during and after exerting yourself outdoors. You should rest often and seek shade when available.
If possible, you should try to schedule more strenuous tasks for cooler parts of the day (early morning and evening hours). Remember to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing and a wide brimmed hat. Lastly, don’t forget to use sunscreen!
Heat-related illness can be identified by symptoms such as heavy sweating and muscle pain/spasms. It is essential to treat these symptoms as soon as possible in order to prevent escalation.
To treat heat cramps, it is important to replace fluid loss by drinking water and having a snack and/or carbohydrate electrolyte replacement liquids (e.g., sports drinks) every 15 to 20 minutes. Seek medical help if the affected person has heart problems, is on a low sodium diet or if the cramps do not subside within one hour.
If the heat illness escalates beyond heat cramps, it can turn into heat exhaustion. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include but are not limited to: headache, nausea/vomiting, irritability, weakness, muscle cramps and/or fainting.
If someone is experiencing heat exhaustion, they should immediately seek medical attention from a health clinic, and someone should remain with the affected person until help arrives. In the meantime, to treat someone with heat exhaustion, you should remove the person from the hot area, give them liquids, remove unnecessary clothing (including shoes and socks), cool the person with cold compresses (place on the head, neck and face) and encourage frequent sips of cool water. If they cannot drink, seek emergency medical help immediately!
The final, and most deadly, heat illness is heat stroke. While heat stroke doesn’t kill immediately, it can shut down major body organs, causing acute liver, kidney, muscle damage, nervous system problems and blood disorders. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and if you encounter someone on campus experiencing symptoms related to heat stroke, call Public Safety (602-639-8100) immediately and start first aid measures.
The symptoms of heat stroke are:
- High body temperature
- Hot, red, dry or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
- Losing consciousness
While waiting for help to arrive, make sure someone always remains with the person, move them to a shaded, cool area and remove their outer clothing, wet the affected individual with cool water and circulate the air to speed cooling (i.e., fanning them). Also, you should place cold, wet cloths or ice all over the body or soak the person’s clothing with cold water.
Pets and animals
Did you know that your animals can experience heat illness as well? If your animal is exhibiting signs and symptoms of heat illness, bring them inside and give them water.
Do not spray your dog down with water or pour water on your animals! This can cause them to go into shock. Rather, place cold water bottles under their armpits, tail and between their legs. Also, place a cold towel on top of them. This way, the coolness of the towels and water bottles can be removed and prevent the animal from going into shock.
Beat the heat!
Luckily, there are many trained individuals around campus who can help if you are unsure what to do in the situations listed above. If there are any concerns about a person’s health or wellbeing, please call Public Safety at 602-639-8100 and they will be able to assess the situation.
If you are an employee and you have any further questions or concerns in regard to Heat Illness or Prevention, feel free to contact the Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) department at 602-639-7279 or email us at [email protected].
Remember to beat the heat this summer and stay safe while at work and at home.
Additional information: Arizona Department of Health Services