Heat Stroke & Heat Exhaustion – How to Beat the Heat!

Beat the Summer Heat!  Avoiding and Treating Heat-Related Illness

Summer has returned!  It seems tough for me to think about the season without a nod to some of the tunes I listened to back in the day.  This song “Boys of Summer” (A cover of a Don Henly Tune by the Ataris) drags me back to a summer sometime in the early  2000’s and it’s blazing heat…which gives me both a feeling of nostalgia, and being 2 days older than dirt.  To be honest…the two feelings are becoming easier to rationalize with each passing day.

If you’re up for a trip down memory lane, click on the link to the right, and enjoy a little serenade from the the Ataris as you read.

Unfortunately, we don’t all have multi-platinum albums to celebrate, while chillin’ at the beach.  I spent the summer of 2002 working in the northern regions of Alberta, Canada.  A region famous for bitterly cold winters, scorchingly hot, dry summers, and mosquitos large enough to carry away a medium sized dog.  Believe it or not, the region was prone to temperature swings as high as 38 C (100 F) and as low as -17.3 C (63 F) in the summer, yes, you read that right.  In the summer.  (check out historical weather here)

I’d been working in oil sands mining operations, and crude oil upgraders for my entire career at that point.  I went through my entire apprenticeship training program, actually my whole academic career to that point, and had never learned anything about temperature-related illness.  As you might have already figured out, knowing how to take proper precautions in extreme heat – while wearing full fire retardant coveralls and PPE should be common knowledge.

Not for this guy.  Wow did I suffer.

Really, when you get down to it, managing any kind of exposure should be a life skill.  In your work or home life, you should be able to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness, be it heat cramps, Syncope, Exhaustion or Stroke.  They can occur inside, or outside, at work or at home, depending on the conditions, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be blistering hot for it to happen.

The purpose of this article is to pass hard earned knowledge, on how to recognize, prevent, and if necessary treat various forms of heat stress.  Hopefully, we’ll prevent you from experiencing the same brutal consequences of exposure that guys like me have learned the hard way. People who can benefit from this article?  Everyone.  Check it out below:

Keep in mind that there are multiple environmental, and personal factors that affect heat-related illness.  There is no specific formula, you may be at work, or home…Translation, you may be incredibly fit, and healthy…but if you’re just coming off a “bender” last night…you’re at risk.  Any combination of the following factors can contribute to, or accelerate an individual’s sensitivity:

Personal and Environmental Contributors to Heat-Related Illness

  • Acclimatization: Is the person accustomed to working in the heat?
  • Physical Fitness: Fit Workers are less likely to experience heat-related illnesses
  • Age: Older workers typically experience more difficulty acclimating to hot environments
  • Lifestyle: Alcohol/drug use contributes to dehydration, and increases the likelihood of heat-related illness.  Some prescription and illicit drugs also increase heat sensitivity.
  • Atmospheric Conditions: High humidity, direct sunlight, and radiant heat greatly increase heat stress conditions. PPE, though necessary compounds heat issues.
  • Workload: Strenuous work in high heat causes a greater likelihood of heat-related illness.

Explanation of the 4 Major Types of Heat-Related Illness

Heat Cramps  (Mayo Clinic, 2017)

What is it? Symptoms May Include What Causes it? How to Treat it
Muscle Cramping and pain.
  • Painful, involuntary muscle spasms
  • Usually occurs during heavy exercise in hot environments.
  • The spasms may be more intense and prolonged than typical nighttime leg cramps.
  • Muscles most often affected include calves, arms, abdominal wall and back, although heat cramps may involve any muscle group involved in exercise.
  • Caused by heavy perspiration, and the resulting fluid & electrolyte loss.
  • Causes an imbalance in the salts and minerals of the muscles.
  • Rest briefly and cool down
  • Drink clear juice or an electrolyte-containing sports drink
  • Practice gentle, range-of-motion stretching and gentle massage of the affected muscle group
  • Don’t resume strenuous activity for several hours or longer after heat cramps go away

Heat Syncope  (Nims, 1999)

What is it? Symptoms May Include What Causes it? How to Treat it
Blood pooling in the lower regions of the body.
  • Fainting or near fainting condition
  • It occurs among people who’ve been standing stationary for prolonged periods.
  • Victims are usually standing in the sun, or in a warm environment for prolonged periods.
  • Standing still causes blood to pool in the lower regions of the body.
  • Lie down in a shady area and drink water.
  • Periodically flex muscles throughout the shift.
  • Take walks around you’re work area, and regularly consume water.

Heat Exhaustion  (Mayo Clinic, 2017) (Nims, 1999)

What is it? Symptoms May Include What Causes it? How to Treat it
The body overheating
  • Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
  • Heavy sweating
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Exposure to high temperatures
  • Particularly when combined with high humidity and strenuous physical activity.
  • Remove the Individual from the hot environment.
  • Provide cool water to drink (45-50f)
    • Should be monitored by someone with first aid training.
    • Seek medical attention immediately if condition worsens.

Heat Stroke (Mayo Clinic, 2017) (Nims, 1999)

What is it? Symptoms May Include What Causes it? How to Treat it
The body overheating
  • High body temperature.A body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.
  • Altered mental state or behavior.Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
  • Alteration in sweating.In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel moist.
  • Nausea and vomiting.You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
  • Flushed skin.Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
  • Rapid breathing.Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
  • Racing heart rate.Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
  • Headache. Your head may throb.
  • Usually a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures.
  • This most serious form of heat injury, heat stroke can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher.
  • Extremely dangerous – A medical emergency
  • Move person to a cool area, and aggressively cool them – wet blankets and fanning them to cool them down.
    • Transport via medical team to the nearest hospital.
    • the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death

Minimize Your Risk

Though some may seem minimal, if you make some of the adjustments below, you’ll greatly reduce the risk of heat exposure.

  1. Adjust your work schedule: This is very common in equatorial countries that experience high heat. Working an early start, or split shift, that allows your workers to escape the hottest portion of the day.
  2. Adopt a “Work / Rest Schedule”: Alternate working in the heat, to breaking in cool areas – such as 30 minutes in, 10 minutes out.
  3. Allow workers recovery time: Prolonged shifts (7,14, 24 days at a time) that include consistent exposure to heat that they have not acclimated to may have a cumulative effect.
  4. Provide relief: Air conditioned, or cooled break areas.
  5. Hydrate: Provide adequate water to for workers to drink. Advise them to avoid heavily caffeinated beverages that promote dehydration.
  6. Educate: Workers need to know how to recognize heat-related illness, and monitor each other for it. They should also be taught to intervene when they suspect issues.
  7. Dress for Work: Workers should be wearing natural fibers to allow sweat to wick off the skin.  This promotes a natural cooling effect, known as “evaporative cooling”.

(Nims, 1999)

Lastly, if you’re brave enough to dip into some industrial hygiene, grab yourself a copy of the “ACGIH TLVs & BEIs” Handbook – in long form that stands for:

  • American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists handbook.
  • TLV = Threshold Limit Value
  • BEI = Biological Exposure Indices

You can read more about the handbook, and the ACGIH here: http://www.acgih.org/tlv-bei-guidelines/policies-procedures-presentations/overview

You can also take a course on it here 

Have fun this summer!  But stay safe, and know how to recognize and treat the symptoms of heat-related illness!

Works Cited

Mayo Clinic. (2017, May 25). Diseases and Conditions: Heatstroke. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heat-stroke/basics/definition/con-20032814

Mayo Clinic. (2017, May 25). Heat Cramps: First Aid. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-heat-cramps/basics/art-20056669

Mayo Clinic. (2017, May 25). Heat Exhaustion – Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from www.mayoclinic.org/: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heat-exhaustion/basics/definition/con-20033366

Nims, D. K. (1999). Basics of Industrial Hygiene. New York: John Wiley & Sons.


How to Beat the Heat!  Heat Stroke & Heat Exhaustion
Article Name
How to Beat the Heat! Heat Stroke & Heat Exhaustion
How to recognize, prevent, and if necessary treat heat stroke and various other forms of heat-related illness.
Publisher Name
Bastion Safety Solutions
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  1. TheDogVisitor.com June 16, 2019 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    Replace Salt and Minerals: Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body that need to be replaced. A sports drink can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.

    • Barry Lawrence August 27, 2019 at 1:28 pm - Reply

      Hi @Thedogvisitor, I agree, a good electrolyte drink can help out alot!

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