What is Heat Related Illness(HRI)?
During periods of extreme heat and heat waves New Mexicans can be at risk for heat stress, but even if the temperatures aren't extreme, a person can be affected by heat related illness if they aren't taking the right precautions. Heat stress is heat-related illness (HRI) which can have many symptoms. HRI includes adverse health conditions ranging from heat rash and sunburn, to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. If severe, any of these conditions can lead to a trip to the emergency room. If heat stroke is not treated promptly, it can lead to coma and death.
How to Recognize and Treat HRI
- Heat rash appears mainly in the folds of the skin as red clusters of small blisters that look like pimples. This can be treated by staying cool and dry and keeping the rash dry.
- Sunburn painful, warm, red skin that may develop blisters if severe. Get out of the sun if you develop a sunburn and stay out until it has completely healed. Reduce the heat with cool, damp cloths or a cool bath; you can also apply moisturizing lotions to affected areas. Don't break the blisters.
- Heat cramps muscle pain or spasms that is accompanied by heavy sweating, especially during intense exercise. Stop any physical activity and move to a cool place. Drink water or a sports drink and wait for the cramps to go away before starting activity again. Get medical help right away if the cramps last longer than an hour, you are on a low sodium diet, or if you have heart problems.
- Heat exhaustion appears with heavy sweating; cold, clammy skin; a fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; muscle cramps; tiredness or weakness; dizziness; headache; and fainting. To treat, move to a cool place, loosen clothing, cool down with damp cloths or take a cool bath and sip water. If you are throwing up, symptoms last longer than an hour, or worsen get medical help right away.
- Heat stroke is the most serious HRI and happens when the body loses its ability to sweat. Body temperature will climb (103 degrees or higher), skin will be hot, red and dry, or damp. Pulse will be fast and strong and a headache, nausea, dizziness and confusion, and passing out can occur. It is important to recognize heat stroke in others as they may not recognize the danger that they are in because of confusion. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, so call 911 right away. Try to lower the person's body temperature with cool, wet cloths or a cool bath. Do not give them anything to drink.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone can be affected. People at highest risk are the elderly, the very young, people with existing chronic diseases such as heart disease, people on certain medications, and people without access to air conditioning. But even young and healthy people can get sick from the heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities without taking precautions or ignoring signs and symptoms of HRI during hot weather.
If you live in the southern part of the state, it is important to be heat-aware even though you may feel that you are accustomed to the hot temperatures. Make sure children and elderly loved ones are in a cool place and are drinking plenty of water. A recent Department of Health report indicates that in southern New Mexico where high temperatures are common in the summer, there is an increased risk of visits to the emergency room for heat-related illness.
Make sure children stay hydrated and remain indoors in a place with air conditioning on hot days. On those hot summer days when temperatures are at the highest consider going to a local public library, museum, or a community center with air-conditioning if you don't have air-conditioning in your home.
Children or animals can be seriously injured or die as temperatures rise within a few minutes of being left alone in a hot car. Do not leave your children or pets in the car while you are running errands no matter how quick you think it will be. Studies show the practice of leaving a vehicle window partially open, or cracked, has little effect on decreasing temperature inside.
It is important that adults age 65 and older stay cool. On high-heat days recreational sports and activities should be done indoors in a cool setting such as at a local senior center. Senior centers, shopping malls and public libraries are great places to beat the heat. Check up on elderly or homebound relatives and neighbors who are living on their own during the summer months when temperatures soar. It is critical for loved ones and neighbors to check on seniors as we lose the ability to self-regulate our body temperatures as we age. If you know of someone who is homebound and without a properly functioning air conditioner, visit or call them to ask how they are doing. To find services for seniors in your community call 800-432-2080.
Outdoor workers in agriculture, construction, and other industries are exposed to a great deal of exertional and environmental heat stress that may lead to severe illness or death. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers have a plan in place to prevent heat-related illness. The plan should include hydration (drinking plenty of water), acclimatization (getting used to weather conditions), and schedules that alternate work with rest. Employers should also train workers about the hazards of working in hot environments.
The New Mexico Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises you to take these steps to prevent heat-related illnesses, injuries, and deaths during hot weather:
- Stay cool indoors; do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device
- Drink more water than usual
- Avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar
- Replace salt and minerals in your body
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing
- Schedule outdoor activities for cooler times of the day
- Pace yourself
- Monitor people at high risk
- Do not leave children or pets in cars.