Summer is time for heat-related problems

June 27, 2002|By Khaled M. Bali, irrigation/water management adviser, University of California-Imperial County Cooperative Extension

The summer heat is here and measures to prevent heat-related problems must be implemented to prevent serious injuries or death. Agricultural 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. Simple measures can be taken to prevent excessive or prolonged exposure to heat.

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 the 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 to increase blood circulation to the brain. The victim should lay down and the feet should be raised about 1 foot above the rest of the body.

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

The symptoms of heatstroke are hot, dry skin and strong, rapid pulse. The victim may become confused or unconscious. If the body temperature is too high, heatstroke causes death. As people age, they become more susceptible to heatstroke 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 1 foot above ground level.

2. Loosen any tight clothing.

3. Drink water and fluids. Add about one teaspoon of salt and one 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 heatstroke:

1. Take the victim to a cool place and ask someone else to call for medical help. Heatstroke 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 heatstroke is simple:

1. Drink plenty of water and fluids during hot weather, at least one-half 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.

>> The Cooperative Extension serves all residents of the Imperial Valley.

>> Sources: American Red Cross leaflets, American Medical Association Family Medical Guide, and OSHA Technical Manual, Section III, Chapter 4.

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