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Avoiding heat exhaustion, deadly heat stroke

May 24, 2001|By Khaled M. Bali

University of California Cooperative Extension

Operations involving exposure to high temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity and direct physical contact with hot objects have a high potential for causing heat-related problems.

Work activities conducted in hot weather, such as agriculture and construction, are likely to cause heat stress among workers exposed to high temperatures if proper protective measures against heat are not taken.

Excessive exposure to the sun and inadequate intake of water and salt may cause heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is usually accompanied by a normal body temperature. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are rapid breathing, headache, cramps in the legs and abdomen, weakness, dizziness, dim vision and pale or white skin.


As a direct result of exposure to heat or sun, the blood warms and rushes to the surface capillaries of the body to cool itself. This causes deficiency in blood circulation to the vital organs such as the brain and heart. The body tries to compensate for inadequate blood supply by causing the small veins to constrict and as a result the skin becomes pale and clammy.

Victims suffering from heat exhaustion should be removed from the hot environment and given fluid replacement. If the victim faints, the first step is to take the victim to a cool place and increase blood circulation to the brain. The victim should lie down and the feet should be raised about one foot above the rest of the body.

Heat stroke may follow heat exhaustion. Heat stroke occurs because of prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Normally the human body releases heat through sweating. However, when the body loses large amounts of water through sweating, the mechanism in the brain that regulates body temperature stops functioning. As a result, heat builds in the body and body temperature rises rapidly to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, causing heat stroke.

The symptoms of heat stroke are hot, dry skin and strong, rapid pulse. The victim may become confused or unconscious. If the body temperature is too high, heat stroke causes death.

As people age, they become more susceptible to heat stroke because the ability of the body to regulate temperature becomes less effective.

What to do for heat exhaustion:

1. Lie down in a cool place with feet raised one foot above ground level.

2. Loosen any tight clothing.

3. Drink water and fluids. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar to each quart of water.

4. Apply wet cloths to the body.

5. Get medical attention if necessary.

What to do for heat stroke:

1. Take the victim to a cool place and ask someone else to call for medical help. Heat stroke is an emergency.

2. Remove clothing and wrap the person in wet sheets.

3. Fan the victim to promote cooling.

4. Cover the victim with a dry sheet and continue to fan.

Prevention of heat exhaustion and heat stroke is simple:

1. Drink plenty of water and fluids during hot weather, at least half a gallon a day when the weather is hot. Fluids that contain minerals and sugar such as sport drinks are recommended.

2. Avoid vigorous work or exercise when the weather is hot.

3. Avoid alcohol.

4. Take breaks in a cool place.

Sources: American Red Cross leaflets, American Medical Association Family Medical Guide, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration Technical Manual, Section III, Chapter 4.

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