Good Monday Morning Team!
Welcome to summertime! And welcome to the warmer summertime temps as well. Here in the Wichita area we officially reached 99 degrees on the 21st of June which is also considered the traditional start of summer in the northern hemisphere. Coincidence? I think not. We have since passed into triple digits on occasion and it appears that most long range forecasts seem to point to slightly above average temps this summer here in our area. So as our summertime temperatures do increase, we need to be especially aware of the health effects it can have on us and try to avoid those heat related illnesses that increased temperatures can cause.
Our body’s, have a control system that regulates our internal, or core temperature primarily by evaporation of sweat which draws heat away from the body. Under certain conditions, like when air temperature gets above 95 and the humidity is high, this cooling mechanism starts to lose effectiveness. Whenever humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate as quickly and we cannot dissipate heat rapidly enough. Additionally, without adequate fluid intake, this excessive sweating, or fluid loss, can lead to imbalances in our electrolytes and dehydration. All of this can lead to very high body temperatures (Hyperthermia) that can damage the brain and other internal organs.
Here are the most common types of heat related illnesses, symptoms and tips on avoiding them:
Heat Rash: Usually occurs due to the inflammation of blocked sweat glands. Generally appearing as reddened skin with raised bumps or tiny blisters, it can also cause a prickly or itchy sensation on the skin. It often occurs in skin creases or where clothing might be tight and air cannot circulate. Wearing loose fitting clothing, avoiding hot or humid conditions, working in air conditioned spaces, or using fans to circulate air are all ways to avoid heat rash. Heat rash will usually fade when the skin is allowed to cool. Medical attention is usually only necessary if the area becomes infected.
Heat Cramps: Generally occur when the body loses large amounts of water, salt, magnesium, potassium and other nutrients through profuse sweating, especially during intense physical exertion. Cramps, or muscle spasms, are generally located in the abdomen, arms and calves, but can be located in any muscle group involved in heavy use. Staying hydrated by drinking clear juice or an electrolyte-containing sports drink is the best way to avoid cramps. If you suspect you are having heat cramps, try gentle range of motion stretching or massage of the affected area. Avoid strenuous activity for several hours after the cramps go away. Seek medical attention if the cramps remain for more than an hour or so.
Heat Exhaustion: Occurs because of the excessive fluid loss as stated above. The continued loss of fluids and salts will lead to circulation issues as well as interfere with brain function. Symptoms can develop suddenly or appear gradually over time and may include; cramps, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat, cool moist skin, getting goose bumps while in the heat, faintness, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and headache. Avoiding heat exhaustion includes; acclimatizing to hot weather, staying well hydrated with water and/or sports drinks, frequent rest breaks in cooler areas, and wearing appropriate warm weather clothing that allows moisture to evaporate. If you suspect heat exhaustion in yourself or another, it’s essential to immediately get yourself or them out of the heat to rest in a preferably air conditioned room. If you cannot get inside then try finding a shady area to rest in. Drink plenty of fluids, especially sports drinks (avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages), remove any unnecessary clothing, use wet or ice filled towels on head and neck, and get some air moving across your body. Do not return to the previous activity that day, even if symptoms subside. If symptoms do not lessen in 15 minutes, seek immediate medical attention. Untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, the most serious of the heat related illnesses.
Heat Stroke: This occurs when the body totally loses its ability to cool itself. Prolonged exposure to high internal temperature causes the area of the brain that regulates our body temperature to malfunction. The hallmark symptom is a core temperature above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with all symptoms listed above, others may include, throbbing headache, lack of sweating, hot and dry skin, rapid and shallow breathing, confusion, disorientation, staggering, seizures, or unconsciousness. If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke call 911 immediately as any delay can be fatal. While waiting for help to arrive you should provide the following first aid if possible; move the person to an air conditioned environment, or at least a cool shaded area, remove or loosen unnecessary clothing, fan air over the body while wetting their skin with water from a sponge or garden hose. Focus on the armpits, neck, groin, and back as these areas have more blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. Ice packs may be applied to the armpits or the back of the person’s neck, though caution is needed here since that might cause additional harm in older folks, younger children and those with certain health conditions. If the person is awake and alert enough to swallow, give them fluids for hydration, but don’t give fluids if they cannot sit up enough to swallow without choking. If help is delayed in arriving call 911 or the hospital emergency room for additional first aid steps.
Since we are unlikely to be able to avoid working in the outdoor temperatures that summertime can sometimes throw at us, we need to be prepared for it when we do. In simplest terms we need to; try to schedule your hardest outdoor work in the early morning hours when temps are generally cooler, stay appropriately hydrated, wear light weight clothing that allows moisture to wick away and evaporate, build up your tolerance to working in the heat, take some cooling rest breaks, and take frequent stock of how your feeling. Don’t forget to check in with those others, you know are toiling away in the heat as well.
Have great start to the summer and stay safe!
Director of Facilities Services