Ah, the heat of the moment. Welcome summer. Welcome 100 degree daily heat index. I love summer. Even as I sit here on my deck and the sweat trickles down my back into the coolest place currently unexposed to the sun. I love the summer heat. Most people love to stay in the cool indoors where the air conditioning prevents sweat from beading up on their brow and
dripping into their morning coffee, but I love every last bit of sunshine and the summer Hades heat that leaves the white salty residue on my face. I know, I know, it is different when playing in the heat vs working in the heat. Working in the heat is no fun. I gathered this from my husband's huge sigh when plopping his sweat stained figure onto our couch after a long day working in the heat. How can those who work in the heat find a little respite this summer? How can heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration be prevented when exposed to the summer sun and heat all day? Let's plunge a little deeper into the hot topic of staying cool in this summer heat, shall we?
Quick statistic report: Although there are many informative commercials, social media posts, blogs, and news reports about ways to avoid heat related health issues, there are still around 600 people who die every year to heat related causes,(CDC, 2018).
I am only a heat loving messenger here so please HEED the message I am about to relay and help prevent any additions to the above statistic.
First, what is a heat index and why is it so important to those who work outside? Well, everyday, we are exposed to ambient temperatures. The weather temperature outside, the air inside, the temperature of the air all around us are ambient temperatures. The heat index is the "apparent temperature." This means, the ambient temperature may be 90 degrees while, if there is moisture in the air (humidity) the apparent temperature feels a bit hotter than the actual air temperature. When the ambient temperature is higher than our body temperature, our temperature rises. The only way left for our body to cool itself is through the evaporation of the sweat we produce and through the evaporation of the moisture we breathe out. Even if we do not feel we are sweating, we still lose moisture through our skin and maintain a balance in our body temp. Pretty cool right? Literally. However, if the heat index is increased (the humidity is high and my hair looks like a blend of pubic hair with a static reaction), our body perspiration will not evaporate efficiently enough to keep us cool. When we lose our cooling mechanism, we become over heated. So, it is important to understand the heat index and how it can affect our day when exerting ourselves in the summer heat.
When we become overheated, we get into trouble. Our body becomes stressed as heat exhaustion begins to creep in. Excessive sweating, heart racing, cramping, just feeling extremely hot, are all symptoms of heat exhaustion. At this point, if we don't listen to our body and begin to cool ourselves down, heat exhaustion can lead into a heat stroke. May Day, May Day, with heat stroke, our body temperature may rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, we
become loopy as all get out and our heart rate can rise over 130 beats a minute. Our brains are not designed to handle a temperature that high! An elevated heart rate puts a lot of stress on the circulatory system. For those with pre-existing heart conditions, the risk of cardiovascular shut-down is very high. Some people may become very irritable, confused, have hallucinations, while others may fall into a coma. Heat stroke is an emergency and quick action needs to be taken to prevent damage to our vital organs. Now, I am just giving you the basic run down but the pathophysiology is actually quite fascinating.
Heat stroke can occur in both the young athletic healthier folks and extremely hard working folks through over exertion in the high temps. Heat stroke can also occur in the elderly who are exposed to higher temperatures during heat waves without access to proper cooling mechanisms. That is why it is important to check on our elderly neighbors throughout the summer months! Ice tea and a great conversation may be your reward for a wellness check. It will be completely worth it.
Let's not forget about dehydration, which is entwined with heat exhaustion and heat stroke, but can also be an issue all by itself. When sweating throughout the heat filled day, the body may be staying a little cooler but all the fluid lost through perspiration has to be replenished to help maintain balance. If water and electrolytes are not being replaced, dehydration occurs. Symptoms include increased thirst, headache, dry mouth, decreased urine output, dark urine, dizziness, muscle cramps, and fatigue. If this state continues, kidneys can shut down, blood pressure can drop, seizures can occur because of a severe electrolyte imbalance.
This is some scary stuff. How can this all be prevented? While at work in any extremely hot environment, wear light loose clothes, pre-hydrate and re-hydrate every 15-20 minutes. In between bottles of water, drink an electrolyte replacement drink, avoid drinking soda. Keep cooling packs handy in a lunch cooler, find shade to work in whenever possible, complete the harder tasks in the early morning before the heat kicks up several notches. Soak a shirt in cool water and put it on. Wrap a towel soaked in cold water around your head. Know the symptoms of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and listen to your body! Do not over do it.
It is summer time, I enjoy being able to do literally everything outdoors, but I do not have to work in the heat so I cannot complain. I respect everyone who works hard everyday in all sorts of weather and I want everyone to be safe. Please pay attention and take care of yourselves. The heat index can be brutal. Don't let your work day turn into a Disco Inferno!