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Understanding, Addressing Heat Stress

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Bahrain's scorching summer temperatures are not just uncomfortable, they can be dangerous, even deadly. Working in hot conditions without the right precautions poses many hazards to safety and health, and lowers work performance.

Temperatures in Bahrain can reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit by 7 a.m. with humidity ranging from 20 to 85 percent. This humidity can make it feel up to 20 degrees warmer and reduce the body's ability to cool itself through perspiration.

The high temperature and humidity lead to a number of problems, including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat cramps, fainting, heat rash and hyponatremia. Some of these conditions are easy to confuse, but it is important to recognize each symptom and know how to respond.

HEAT RASH - Heat rash, also called prickly heat, may occur in hot and humid environments where sweat cannot evaporate easily. When the rash covers a large area it may become very uncomfortable. Heat rash may be prevented by resting in a cool place and allowing the skin to dry.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

* Rash of small pink or red bumps, itching, irritation or prickly sensation.

WHAT TO DO

* Keep skin clean and dry to prevent infection.
* Wear loose cotton clothing.
* Cool baths and air conditioning are very helpful.

HEAT CRAMPS - Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms. They occur when a person drinks a lot of water, but does not replace salts lost from sweating. Tired muscles are most likely to have the cramps.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

* Cramping or spasms of muscles that occur during or after work.

WHAT TO DO

* Drink an electrolyte solution (sports drink).
* If the cramps are severe or not relieved by drinking a sports drink, seek medical attention.

HYPONATREMIA - Hyponatremia is metabolic condition where there is not enough sodium (salt) in the body.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

* Abnormal mental status, confusion, decreased consciousness, hallucinations, headache, irritability, loss of appetite, muscle spasms or cramps, nausea, restlessness and vomiting.

WHAT TO DO

* When conducting physical activities drink fluids that contain electrolytes (sports drinks). Avoid drinking only water which could lead to acute hyponatremia. Also add table salt to meals.

FAINTING - Fainting usually happens to someone who is not used to working in a hot environment.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

* Brief loss of consciousness, sweaty skin, normal body temperature.

WHAT TO DO

* Lie down in a cool place.
* Seek medical attention if not recovered after brief period of lying down.

HEAT EXHAUSTION - Heat exhaustion happens when a person sweats a lot and doesn't drink enough fluids or take in enough salt, or both.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

* Sweaty, weak, tired, possibly giddy, nausea, normal or slightly higher body temperature, pale, clammy skin (sometimes flushed)

WHAT TO DO

* Rest in a cool place.
* Drink an electrolyte solution, (sports drink) and avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol.
* In severe cases involving vomiting or fainting, call for medical assistance and have the person taken to a medical facility.

HEAT STROKE - Heat stroke, the most serious health problem for people working in the heat, is not very common. It is caused by the failure of the body to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can not release enough excess heat. Victims will die unless they receive proper treatment promptly.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

* Mental confusion, delirium, fainting, or seizures, body temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, hot dry skin that's usually red or bluish color.

WHAT TO DO

* Call for medical assistance immediately and request an ambulance.

* Move victim to a cool area.
* Soak the victim with cool water.
* Fan the victim vigorously to increase cooling.

PREVENTING HEAT STRESS

Here are some general tips to prevent, heat related injuries.

* Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing to allow sweat to evaporate and drink plenty of liquids.

* An easy way to tell if you are dehydrated is the color of your urine. The darker your urine, the more dehydrated you are.

* If possible, heavy work should be scheduled during cooler parts of the day.

* Look out for early signs of heat stress and recognize the signs of dehydration, fainting, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and hyponatremia. It may save your life.

Remember to drink plenty of different fluids throughout the day and take breaks when working in the heat. If something doesn't seem right take a break, and seek medical attention if your condition doesn't improve.

Stay alert and look out for each other.

Article by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lewis Hunsaker, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet Public Affairs