The summer may be half over and despite these beautiful, comfortable temperatures, it’s vitally important for those who work outside every day to be aware of the dangers of heat-related diseases.
These disorders are not to be taken lightly as Bristol Health’s Medworks Occupational Health Program treats dozens of workers who present with heat-related conditions that occur on the job. People who work outside during the summer are very susceptible to heat-related disorders and this includes fireman, lineman, and asphalt and construction laborers.
A healthy body temperature is maintained by the nervous system. As the temperature increases, the body tries to maintain its normal temperature by transferring heat. Sweating and blood flow to the skin helps keep the body cool. Heat-related illness occurs when our bodies can no longer transfer enough heat to keep the body cool and this often results in hyperthermia which can be deadly even for the most fit outdoor worker.
Here are some of the more common heat-related conditions:
- Heat stroke: This the most serious form of heat-related illness and it occurs when the body is unable to regulate its core temperature. The symptoms include confusion, fainting, seizures and dry skin. Call 911 immediately and offer fluids (preferably water), sit in a shady cool area and apply cold compresses.
- Heat exhaustion: Symptoms include heavy sweating, headache, nausea and dizziness. Treatment includes having the worker lie in a cool shady area, drink plenty of water and apply cold compresses.
- Heat cramps: Symptoms are very painful muscle spasms usually in the abdomen, arms or legs. Treatment also includes having the worker lie in a cool shady area, drink plenty of water and apply cold compresses. Wait a few hours before returning to work and seek medical attention if the cramps don’t go away.
- Heat rash: Symptoms include clusters of red bumps on the skin that often appear on the neck, chest and folds of skin. Treatment includes keeping the affected area dry and working in a cooler, less-humid environment.
- Heat syncope: Syncope (fainting) occurs with the body temperature goes above 104 degrees and is a result of low blood pressure. It’s often caused by standing too long in hot conditions at which time the blood vessels expand and body fluids move into the legs because of gravity. Treatment includes moving the worker to a shaded cooler area to decrease body temperature. In addition to drinking water, the worker’s legs should be elevated.
Laura Leonetti, RN, COHN-S, is an occupational health nurse with Bristol Health’s Medworks Occupational Health Program which is located at 975 Farmington Ave in Bristol. For an appointment, please call 860-589-0114.