Ultimate Guide to Heat Stress and Heat-Related Illnesses

October 10, 2021

Ultimate Guide to Heat Stress and Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat stress and other heat-related illnesses are not exclusive to the summer season.

It can be an occupational hazard for some, and a possible risk for those with an active lifestyle. The heat can cause mild symptoms (heat stress) to severe complications (heat stroke).

The progression of a heat-related illness is so easy to overlook, so being familiar with the common symptoms of heat-related illness becomes a matter of life and death.

Why do heat illnesses occur?

Heat illnesses happen when your body’s temperature is overloaded. Normally, your body cools down by sweating. But when the increasing temperature overrides your body’s capacity to sweat, your body is unable to release heat and can cause heat illnesses.

In these instances, the body temperature increases to damaging levels. When the body is unable to regulate its temperature, it can get real hot, real fast. 

Heat stress can cause short-term and long-term effects including visual impairment, vital organs to swell or shut down, and heat stroke.

These are the different types of heat stress and illnesses.

Heat Rash

Heat Rash or prickly skin is common to babies, but it’s not only them that can be affected. The symptoms of heat rash manifest as superficial red lumps. It can feel itchy or prickly. It usually goes away on its own and can be relieved by cooling your skin.

Heat Rash Pictures, Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Photo from On Health

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is hard to spot, but it’s important to watch out for it since it can potentially lead to fatal conditions. 

The first symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • heavy sweating
  • clammy skin
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • headache
  • losing consciousness or passing out

Once you notice signs of heat exhaustion, get immediate relief, since it can lead to heat stroke.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps occur when your muscles lose fluid and electrolytes due to the heat or overexertion. Heat cramps commonly affect the calves, arms, abs, and back, but it can also involve any muscle groups involved in a workout.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat-related stress or illness. Heat stroke can possibly be fatal if not responded to immediately.

Here are the symptoms of heat stroke to look out for:

  • high body temperature that reaches 103 degrees fahrenheit or around 39 degrees celsius
  • red skin
  • nausea
  • confusion
  • slurred speech
  • passing out
  • seizures

If a heat stroke is suspected, get emergency care immediately.

In extreme cases of heat stroke, patients can experience rhabdomyolysis.

Rhabdomyolysis is an extreme condition where muscle fibers leak into the bloodstream. This is caused by extreme heat or extreme body exertion.

Risk Factors for Heat Illnesses

While your occupation and the season can definitely be factors to contracting heat-related stress and illnesses, these are other risk factors to consider: 

  • Age. Children under the age of 4 and adults over 65 are more prone to heat-related illnesses since their bodies find it more difficult to regulate temperature during these ages.
  • Weight. Weight is a valid factor when it comes to temperature regulation. Obese people will find it hard to regulate their temperature since their bodies retain more heat as weight increases.
  • High heat index. When it’s hot out, the more you’ll be prone to heat illnesses. 
  • Low water intake. People who are dehydrated will find it hard to regulate their body temperature since their bodies will find it more difficult to cool down without the water to use.
  • Sudden temperature changes. If you’re used to a colder climate then suddenly have to adjust to a hotter climate, you might find it difficult to regulate than if you were born in a hotter climate. This will make you more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
  • Medications.Some prescription medications (such as for the heart) reduces your ability to stay hydrated.

Relieving Heat Illnesses

Heat Illnesses are preventable. Fortunately, there are many ways you can support your body temperature during a hot day. 

  • Hydrate. Giving your body enough fluids is the key to preventing all types of heat illnesses.
  • Keep cool. Work in the shade, make sure that your surroundings are cool and well-regulated, and use a gel pack when it gets too hot. 
  • Wear lightweight clothing. It’s important to wear breathable clothes so that there is more airflow in your body to cool yourself off.
  • Get acclimated. If you’re moving to a hotter climate and worried about heat stress, take it easy and get acclimated. 
  • Take it easy during hot days. Especially during the summer where the heat index is at an all-time high, take a step back and don’t overexert yourself.
  • Take caution. If you know you’re at risk, take extra precautions. Heat stress and heat-related illnesses are not easy to spot.

Final Thoughts

Heat-related illnesses are serious. Once you notice initial signs and symptoms, take necessary measures immediately. Cool down, stay hydrated, and rest.

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