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Three Stages of Heat Stress and How to Treat Them


During a heat wave, workers who stay outdoors for long periods of time during the day run the risk of succumbing to heat-related illnesses. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses is important in ensuring your workers’ safety. St. John Ambulance offers the following guidelines for administering first aid for people suffering from heat stress.

Heat cramps
Painful muscle cramps primarily in the legs and abdomen and excessive sweating. This is usually caused by losing too much water and salt through sweating; usually, this is related to excessive physical activity in hot weather. They are not serious and can be reversed with some basic first aid.

First aid
Ensure the person is put at rest in a cool place and given as much water as possible in small amounts, so as not to cause nausea. If the cramps do not subside, seek medical help.

Heat exhaustion
More serious than heat cramps, the symptoms include: excessive sweating, dilated pupils, complaints of dizziness, blurred vision, headaches and cramps. The casualty may also have cool, clammy skin, a weak rapid pulse, rapid shallow breathing or vomiting and may go unconscious.

First aid
Give the casualty water to drink, as much as they will take. If they vomit, do not give them anything by mouth and seek medical attention right away. Place them at rest in the shock position in a cool place, remove any excessive clothing and loosen clothing around the neck and waist. If they go unconscious, put them in the recovery position and get medical help; continue monitoring their condition.

Heatstroke (sunstroke)
This is a life-threatening condition. Without immediate action, heatstroke can result in permanent brain damage or death. If heatstroke is suspected, seek medical attention immediately or call 9-1-1. Symptoms include a rapid and full pulse that gets weaker and harder to feel in later stages, noisy breathing, flushed skin, hot and dry skin or hot and sweaty skin (when heatstroke is related to exertion), restlessness, headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, convulsions and, eventually, unconsciousness.

First aid
Call for medical assistance. It is critical that the body temperature is lowered as quickly as possible; cover them with a wet sheet and fan them, immerse them in cool (not cold) water (watch them closely for any changes) or sponge them with cool water, particularly in the armpits, neck and groin.

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