Heat Stress



It is hot during this time of year and we must be mindful of how our body reacts to the heat, humidity, and other environmental stressors. This is a time to be proactive in preventing heat-related illness and reduce your risk of illness and death. People who are over 65, overweight, and have chronic conditions have a higher risk of heat related illnesses. Understanding and applying some simple strategies can help you maintain good health, avoid heat related illnesses and enjoy the outdoors and all it has to offer for your health and well-being.

Heat related illnesses to look out for:

  • Heat Stress occurs when the body cannot release excessive heat. The core temperature increases, and the heart increases its rate to try and cool the body. The sweating process can also fail, accelerating the increase in body temperature. As these processes occur, the person can and will lose concentration and might lose focus and become irritable. Sometimes the person loses their desire to consume fluids. Heat stress, is a situation that needs immediate attention and emergency personnel.
  • Heat Exhaustion occurs when the human body loses too much water and salt. This is done through excessive sweating which can be caused by poor hydration and low electrolyte levels combined with being exposed to high temperature and humidity, and if doing too much strenuous activity.
  • Heat Syncope is an episode of dizziness and fainting that usually happens when someone either gets up too fast or does prolonged standing.
  • Heat Cramps occur when the body loses too much salt and the muscles cause painful cramps. These cramps can also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
  • Heat Rash is a skin irritation which is caused by excessive sweating in hot and humid climates.

Ways to Reduce Risk of Heat Related stress and illness:

  • Spend limited time in direct sunlight
  • Spend time in cool environments and take cold showers to cool off
  • Be sure to pace yourself when doing things outside
  • Wear sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater), hats, and sunglasses
  • Wear appropriate clothing – lightweight, light colored, and loose-fitting clothes.
  • Avoid heavy and hot meals as they increase the body temperature
  • Drink plenty of fluids – what you drink today affects tomorrow.
  • Drink some beverages that can boost your electrolytes – salt and minerals – sports drinks can serve this purpose. If you have health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure, check with your health provider before drinking sports drinks or other salt replacing beverages.

It is important to acclimate yourself to your environment which means take time to ramp up your time in extreme environments – hot and humid or altitude. Improving physical fitness can also help your body become efficient at releasing heat. If you take some precautions and preventive steps, you can boost your enjoyment while reducing your risk of heat stress and illness.

Employers can make sure to provide environments for breaks, hydration, and cooling. People that work outdoors are at a higher risk of heat stress in hot environments including farmers, construction workers, factory workers, and hot rooms such as boiler rooms. Informing and educating on prevention – health and safety – can help in reducing the risk of injury including heat-related illness.

Some of the best practices include limiting time in heat and increase recovery time while reducing the metabolic demands of the job. Training employees, supervisors, and managers on heat stress prevention, management, and response is key. Encourage a buddy system and implement heat acclimatization plan and encourage more physical activity to boost fitness levels.

It is up to each of us to plan and be aware of how our body feels in extreme environments. Be smart, be aware, and communicate with those around you. Most of all, be active, hydrate, enjoy the outdoors!