The human body maintains a fairly constant internal temperature. When we become overheated, several reactions take place. First, your body rids itself of excess heat by increasing circulation in blood vessels close to the surface of your skin. This is why your face and hands turn red when you begin to overheat. Your brain may also signal your sweat glands to work harder. As the sweat evaporates, it cools the skin and removes heat from your body.
The problems start when the outside temperature reaches or exceeds your body temperature (98 degrees). At this point, the body isn’t able to release heat. On top of that, when the humidity is high, your body will continue to sweat water and electrolytes, but the sweat won’t evaporate, again not allowing the body to cool down. This depletion of water and minerals, on top of the heat, can lead to severe cramps, fatigue, mental disorientation, heat stroke and even death. The importance of knowing what is happening to your body when it gets hot helps you understand what to do to prevent heat related injuries.
When temperatures start to reach into the 90s and above, it’s suggested that you drink at least 3 cups of cool water per hour and take regular breaks. Before going to work, drink 8-16 ounces of water to pre-hydrate and try to avoid consuming large amounts of alcohol the day before you are working in hot conditions. The effects of the alcohol may wear off by the next day, but you’ll be starting your day off dehydrated. Also, avoid caffeine consumption and try to stick to water and sports drinks that replenish electrolytes.
In the event of heat related illness or symptoms, try the following:
• Rest in a cool place. Getting into an air-conditioned building is best, but at the least, find a shady spot. Rest on your back with your legs elevated higher than your heart level.
• Drink cool fluids. Stick to water or sports drinks. Don’t drink any beverages that have alcohol or caffeine, either of which can contribute to fluid loss. When you leave your location in the morning, make sure you have cold water stocked before you get to the job site. You need to have water available when you’re thirsty instead of having to drive to a store when you’re thirsty.
• Apply cool water to your skin. Take a cool shower or drench yourself with a water hose if possible.
• Loosen clothing. Remove any unnecessary clothing.
Stay cool and be safe!