- The most serious forms of heat illness include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- As many as 600 people die of heat-related causes a year across the United States.
- Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition.
DR. JAMES MOBLEY, M.D., discusses symptoms and preventive measures for heat illness during the recent Coastal Bend Grain Storage and Handlers Conference in Sinton, Texas.
Medications, legally prescribed and otherwise, affect a person’s ability to withstand heat. Blood pressure medications, diuretics, Ritalin, amphetamines, antihistamines and others, as well as cocaine, increase vulnerability to heat illnesses.
Alcohol “is a major risk factor,” he added. Someone who had too much to drink the night before is at higher risk for heat illness.
Recent illness or injury also makes a person more susceptible to heat stress. “Flu or pneumonia within the last year could be a factor,” Mobley said. “Managers should keep an eye on workers who have had this kind of illness.”
Anyone who just moved from a cooler climate is at risk. Working in high humidity conditions increases the risk factor as well. Anyone who has ever suffered from heat injury will remain at a higher risk and possibly at risk for a “worse one.
“Anyone who comes back to work following heat injury will be at risk for the whole season and maybe the next one.”
Mobley said heat injury may come on suddenly. “By the time someone is thirsty he is already dehydrated. Clear urine is a good sign of proper hydration,” he said. Workers can drink too much water, however. Twelve quarts, three gallons, a day is the maximum, and at that level sodium level drops, the brain swells and seizure may occur.
“Use common sense,” Mobley said. “Clothing is important. Wear light colors, a loose weave, long sleeves and a hat.”
Sunscreen is also important to protect skin from skin cancer, especially melanoma, which has increased over the last 20 years. “I’m not sure why,” he said. Anyone who had severe sunburn before the age of 18 “is more prone to skin cancer. Wear a hat and sunscreen and beware of reflective radiation from the ground, especially sand.”
He recommends sunscreen rated at 20 SPF or above.