Best Practices for Preventing Heat-Related Emergencies
High temperatures can be dangerous to people at work, home and play. A hot environment with high humidity can lead to injury, illness and death.
Heat-related illnesses are progressive, ranging from mild symptoms to life-threatening conditions.
- Heat cramps are the earliest sign of heat illness. These are hard, tense and painful muscle cramps of the hands, calves, feet, thighs or arms.
- Heat exhaustion can occur as a result of a rising internal temperature and dehydration. Signs of heat exhaustion include nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, presyncope, headache, fatigue and heavy sweating.
- Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency with a fatality rate of up to 71%. Therefore, it requires immediate medical attention and intervention.
The good news is that heat illnesses are preventable. Here’s what you need to know about preventing heat-related emergencies.
Who is at Greater Risk of Heat Illnesses?
- Infants and young children up to 4 years of age
- Older adults aged 65 and older
- People who work in a humid environment or do outdoor work or exercise (e.g. athletes, military personnel, workers who wear protective clothing like firefighters, etc.)
- People who are overweight or have existing medical conditions (e.g. diabetes or heart disease)
- Low-income and socially isolated individuals
Note that consumption of alcoholic drinks or certain medications can also increase risk as they might impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or inhibit perspiration.
How to Prevent a Heat-Related Medical Emergency
For those exposed to hot temperatures, preventing heat-related emergencies can be achieved with three very simple actions early on: water, rest and shade.
Drinking plenty of fluids and resting from the heat in shady areas are some of the best ways to prevent heat illness.
Other protective measures include wearing sunscreen and appropriate clothing (choose lightweight, loose-fitting clothing in light colors) and staying in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. Public spaces, such as a shopping mall, public library or movie theater, are great places to escape to if you don’t have air conditioning at home.
It’s best to schedule the heaviest workload and other outdoor activities when it’s the coolest, such as the early morning and evening. If possible, rotate tasks among workers to help minimize overexertion and heat exposure.
As an additional resource, Ready.gov provides other ways to prepare for extreme heat and prevent heat-related illnesses.
To learn how to respond to heat-related illnesses and other medical emergencies, contact an HSI Training Center near you for upcoming CPR, AED and First Aid classes.