Whether you’re planting a garden, fixing your roof or installing a new shower enclosure, working indoors or outdoors could not only get seriously injured from overheating your body during the coming summer months, but it can also turn deadly if heat illnesses aren’t properly avoided and treated when symptoms are present. I should know. Over the last 25 years in construction, I’ve had all five heat illnesses on several occasions. Beat the heat this summer and stay cool. Avoid injury on your next DIY project and avoid these five potentially dangerous forms of heat illness.
The least progressive of all heat illnesses, heat rash is the result of hot humid weather and the chaffing of the skin from heaving sweating. These small red bumps look a lot like pimples and typically form in the crooks and crannies of your body (i.e. crotch, armpits, elbows) and can cause some serious discomfort when left untreated. My favorite way to treat this common heat illness is by keeping the area dry and using plenty of baby powder to reduce friction.
Heat cramps are caused from heavy sweating as well and the loss of too much salt can result in cramping in the arms, legs and abdomen. This is the first stage of dangerous heat illness and if you feel cramping in your body, immediately stop what you’re doing and find some shade. My favorite cure for this common problem-drink plenty of fluids, get into some shade for a while and eat a banana-the high potassium helps prevent cramps. If you go back to work before your body has a chance to cool down and replenish necessary fluids, electrolytes and salt, you could end up with an even worse heat illness.
When you’re bent over, lying down or hunched up for long periods of time in the hot heat or high humidity, you could become susceptible to heat syncope. Symptoms include dizziness and fainting and can be very serious if not taken care of immediately. Dehydration can also cause this form of heat illness so be sure to drink plenty of fluids. My best advice is to get up and move around about every 15-30 minutes. It circulates the blood flow, allowing more of those precious nutrients to be used by the body to help cool it down. Gatorade or another high in electrolyte sports drink is what I use to avoid heat syncope when I’m working for long periods of time in a crouched position.
The main problem when we sweat heavily is loss of electrolytes, salt and water and the end result can turn into heat exhaustion if you’re not careful. Fatigue, nausea, dizziness and clammy skin are all symptoms of this dangerous and sometimes deadly heat illness. If you feel any of these symptoms, you need to move to a cool place right away. Cool water sprayed on the clothing and body can help bring down dangerous body temperatures. I prefer to sit in my car with the AC on of at least 30 minutes on a hot day if I can’t go inside to beat the heat. Sip cool clear beverages and avoid alcoholic drinks.
Heatstroke is not only deadly, but it can happen swiftly and unexpectedly. Your body core temperature can easily rise to 106 degrees in just minutes under extreme heat conditions. When your body gives up sweating, you start to feel chills and the skin gets clammy, it’s time to quit for the day and go inside where it’s cool. You’ll also need to take a cool shower, sip cool beverages and avoid any movement for a few hours. It’s also probably a good idea to call 911 or head to the hospital if these symptoms continue for a few minutes after moving inside to a cool location. Learn more about heat-related illnesses and how to prevent and treat them here at the Center for Disease Control website.