Beat the heat and stay safe this summer by following our prevention checklist for heat-related illness.
Read on to learn tips and tricks to stay cool and to learn how extreme heat can impact the body.
How Does Heat Exposure Affect The Body?
Rapid rises in heat gain due to exposure to hotter-than-average conditions can impact health in many different ways.
Temperature extremes affect the body by compromising its ability to regulate core internal temperature. Loss of internal temperature control can result in various illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and other heat-related illnesses.
Extreme heat can also worsen chronic conditions, including:
Heart disease: Extreme heat can put extra stress on the cardiovascular system, leading to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
Lung diseases: (such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): High temperatures and humidity can make breathing harder for people with lung diseases.
Kidney disease: Rapid temperature rise can cause dehydration, which can be particularly dangerous for people with kidney disease.
Diabetes: Extreme heat can make it more difficult for people with diabetes to regulate their blood sugar levels.
Sickle cell disease: The Australian summer heat can cause sickle-shaped red blood cells to stick together, blocking blood flow and causing pain.
Obesity: Excess weight can make it harder for the body to dissipate heat, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses.
Mental health conditions: Extreme heat can worsen symptoms of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
While current research indicates that most people can adapt to a slight increase in average normal temperatures, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with a chronic conditions are more susceptible to adverse effects. These groups are considered ‘high risk’ of heat illness because they are less able to regulate their body temperatures due to their condition.
Other at-risk groups include individuals working outdoors, outdoor athletes, and people below the poverty level.
For this reason, everyone should know how to spot warning signs of heat illness and stay safe in this extremely warm weather by learning first aid.
Heat-Related Illness Prevention Checklist
People at greatest risk for heat-related illness should take the following protective actions to prevent illness or death:
Stay In Cool, Air-Conditioned Spaces
Staying indoors or in air-conditioned spaces is one of the most effective ways to stay cool during extreme heat. If air conditioning is not available at home, try to spend time in public places such as shopping malls, libraries, or community centers that have air conditioning.
When staying at home, open all the windows to allow fresh air to enter your room, creating a thorough breeze.
Drink plenty of water and avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol, as they can cause dehydration.
Wear Lightweight, Loose-fitting Clothing
Wearing lightweight, light-colored clothing can help keep the body cool by reflecting the sun’s rays. It also allows air to flow throughout the body.
Apply sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to expose the skin to protect against sunburn and skin cancer.
Take Cool Showers Or Baths
Cool showers or baths can help lower body temperature and make the person feel more comfortable.
Keep An Eye On Local Heat Alerts
Stay informed about heat warnings and alerts around the area and take the warnings seriously.
Check On Those At High Risk
Make sure that older adults, young children, and people with chronic health conditions stay cool and hydrated.
Do Not Leave Anyone In A Parked Car
When outside is high, the temperature inside a parked car can quickly reach dangerous levels. This will put anyone left inside at risk of heat stroke.
Avoid Strenuous Activities
Avoid strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day and take frequent breaks if spending time outside.
Be Aware Of The Signs Of Heat-related Illness
Look out for symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headache, cramps, and confusion, which could be a sign of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Keep in mind that heat-related illnesses can be serious and even life-threatening, so it’s important to take these precautions seriously and to stay informed about heat alerts in your area.
First Aid For Heat-Related Illness
Here are some common heat-related illnesses and how to treat them.
First Aid For Heat Cramps
Heat cramps are a type of heat illness that occurs when sweating profusely, usually from physical activity in hot weather. The cramps are characterised by painful muscle spasms or contractions, typically in the legs or abdomen, which are signs that the body is losing salt and fluids through sweating.
Treatment for heat cramps should include the following:
- Move the person to a cool place or an air-conditioned room
- Drink water or an electrolyte-containing sports drink
- Get enough rest and gently stretch the affected muscle
If left untreated, heat cramps can progress to more serious forms of heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
First Aid For Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is a more serious condition that can occur with prolonged exposure to high temperatures and dehydration. Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, and fainting. To treat heat exhaustion, you should:
- Move the person to a shady area or cool place
- Remove excess clothing
- Lie down and elevate the legs, if possible
- Drink water or electrolyte drinks
- Apply cool compresses to your skin
If symptoms do not improve within an hour or if there are other symptoms, such as vomiting, seek medical attention right away.
First Aid For Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when the body’s temperature regulation system fails, and the body temperature becomes extremely high. Symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, hot, dry skin, rapid pulse, confusion, and loss of consciousness.
First aid for heat stroke involves the following steps:
- Call Triple Zero (000) or local emergency medical services immediately
- Move the person to a cool or air-conditioned place
- Remove excess clothing
- Place ice packs or cool, wet towels on the person’s neck, armpits, and groin.
- Do not give the person anything to eat or drink.
- If the person loses consciousness and shows no signs of circulation, begin CPR.
It is important to remember that heat stroke is a medical emergency that can lead to brain damage or death if not treated promptly. It is important to seek medical attention immediately if someone shows signs of heat stroke.
Anyone can experience heat-related illness, regardless of age, fitness level, or health status. Heat stroke, in particular, is a serious medical emergency that can lead to brain damage or death if treatment is not given promptly.
Learning first aid for heat illness is important because it can help save lives, prevent serious complications, and relieve discomfort. It can also be a valuable skill in situations where emergency services may not be immediately available.