When the body’s thermoregulatory center senses a rising core temperature, certain functions begin to take place. As body temperatures increase, also known as hyperthermia, the body struggles to maintain a constant core temperature.
Generally, human performance is impaired above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That leads to various symptoms like short-term memory loss, an increase in error rate, erosion of motor skills and diminished insight into judgment skills – everything needed to increase the likelihood of a mishap occurring.
The following are physiological stages of heat stress that need to be recognized:
Heat cramps occur when the body temperature reaches 99.5 to 100.5 F. Symptoms include painful muscle cramps of the extremities and abdomen.
Treatment consists of resting, getting out of the heat and into shade, and forcing as many fluids as can be tolerated. Sports drinks with electrolytes might be helpful, but water is essential.
The body temperature of heat exhaustion is 101 to 105 F. It’s the first stage where the body is unable to keep up with controlling the core temperature. The thermoregulatory center is still working, but the cardiovascular system is working harder to keep up with the increased heart rate necessary to overcome the dilated vessels during the transport of heat from blood flow.
Symptoms include headache, confusion, loss of appetite, nausea and cramps. Treatment consists of resting in the shade or in a cooler setting. Fluids are important, and water is all that is needed at this stage. Don’t be overly concerned with salt replacement.
The last phase of inadequate temperature control is the most serious and occurs when body temperature rises above 105 F. This is a medical emergency when identified. The body is no longer capable of defending itself. The body’s thermoregulatory center has broken down and is unable to manage the body’s temperature control functions.
Symptoms include headache, confusion, dizziness, weakness and often nearly a coma. Sweat is no longer being made; therefore, no evaporation is taking place. The first step towards treatment is to get this person to a cool place and off hot surfaces. Call for medical help immediately and spray or pour liquid over the body to help cooling. It will be difficult to get the victim to drink because there is confusion and early unconsciousness.