Summer is approaching: Prevent heat stress

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Subena Colligan
  • 49th Fighter Wing Heat Stress Program Manager
Now that the warm weather has finally arrived, we're getting all those required briefings on protecting yourself from the sun, but sunburn should not be the only heat related illness that comes to mind.

Heat stress is a serious condition that can have negative effects on members of Team Holloman and the mission. Heat stress and illness occurs when the body is unable to dissipate heat.

To be an effective wingman this summer, everyone should know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and injury. Descriptions of heat stress illnesses from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health are listed below:

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related disorder. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of the water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Workers most prone to heat exhaustion are those who are elderly, have high blood pressure or those working in a hot environment.

Heat syncope is a fainting (syncope) episode or dizziness that usually occurs with prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or lying position. Factors that may contribute to heat syncope include dehydration and lack of acclimatization.

Heat cramps usually affect workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture levels. Low salt levels in muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.

How do we measure heat stress? The optimum method of measuring heat stress is to obtain the core temperature of the body. This is not always a practical method, so we estimate potential heat stress on the body by using the wet bulb globe temperature index. This measurement takes into account radiant heat directly from the sun, air temperature and combining the effect of relative humidity and air velocity. The WBGT is expressed as one number. The Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight monitors the WBGT during summer months and reports results to the Command Post.

So how can you reduce your potential to heat stress? Use common sense and "Put Prevention into Practice." Suggested measures include:

· Make sure you're properly acclimatized prior to starting any strenuous activity.
· Keep yourself hydrated by drinking cool water.
· Stay physically fit. Increased weight puts more stress on your body.
· Watch the alcohol. Alcohol enhances heat illnesses.
· Be familiar with the signs, symptoms and treatment of heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

This summer, preventing the signs and symptoms of heat stress for yourself and your wingman should be on your Operational Risk Management radar. If a heat-related illness is suspected, please have the worker seen at the 49th Medical Group or nearest medical facility immediately.

If you have any questions regarding this issue, please feel free to contact the Bioenvironmental Engineering Office at 572-7938.