Watch Out for Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can cause death or serious complications such as damage to the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles if emergency treatment is not provided.
( Farm Journal )

For those whose livelihoods depend upon working outdoors or in less than favorable conditions, the coming weeks look to be difficult with higher-than-normal temperatures and humidity predicted. For example, animals still need to be cared for, and barns are not air conditioned. Even though there is emphasis on animal comfort through ventilation and cooling efforts, we sometimes get lax on also protecting ourselves and employees from the effects of the heat.

The same goes for those working outdoors, maybe stacking hay, detasseling corn, construction, youth at livestock shows, etc. Personal protection and prevention efforts will be vital as people perform these tasks to prevent heat exhaustion or stroke. People at higher risk for heat stroke or exhaustion include the elderly, infants and children (age 0-4), people who are overweight and those who are ill or on certain medications.

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke: Know the Difference

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), “heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.” Heat stroke can cause death or serious complications such as damage to the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles if emergency treatment is not provided.

The CDC defines heat exhaustion as “a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.”

Warning symptoms: Heat Stroke

Recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke, along with getting emergency medical help, will be critical in deterring permanent damage or death for people in this situation. Please note the following symptoms for heat stroke according to the CDC and Mayo Clinic:

  • A high body temperature (above 103°F)
  • Red, hot and dry skin (no sweating)—the one exception is if heat stroke has been brought on by exercising; then the skin might feel moist
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

Warning Symptoms: Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion will have similar symptoms and should also be taken seriously as it could worsen and lead to heat stroke if not treated. Medical attention should be sought if symptoms worsen or last for more than an hour. Symptoms include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, or fainting.

Personal Protection in the Heat

People are vital to operations and should be treated as an asset. This means we might have to provide extra breaks to cool down during extreme heat, provide extra fans, shade, access to water and sports drinks and sun block. Encourage employees to wear light-colored and light-weight, loose-fitting clothing (caution should be used if working around PTO’s or equipment) along with some type of light head covering.

If you or someone you work with is experiencing heat-related illness what can you do? First, if symptoms are suggestive of a heat stroke, you should seek medical attention immediately. If you are experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat cramping, the following seven tips are suggested:

  • Seek shade or air-conditioning if possible.
  • Cool off with damp sheets and a fan. The fan blown onto the cool, wet sheet will help expedite the cooling.
  • Take a cool shower or bath or take a dip in a lake or pool if available to help bring the body temperature down.
  • Rehydrate. Not only should you be drinking plenty of water (approximately every 15 minutes), but you also might need to replace salt and minerals which have been excreted during sweating. This can be done by drinking some sports drinks. However, if you have a medical condition that limits salt or fluid intake, make sure to consult with your doctor on recommendations for liquid intakes in hot weather.
  • Do not drink sugary drinks or alcoholic beverages to rehydrate. These drinks can actually interfere with your body’s ability to control your temperature.
  • Pace yourself, especially if you are not accustomed to working in excessive heat. It could take several weeks for a person’s body to adjust to working in a hot environment. 
  • Work in pairs when in the heat, so emergency care can be administered if necessary and symptoms can be effectively communicated.   
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