How hot is too hot?
For many, the heat of warmer months is uncomfortable, but for some it can be downright dangerous. Each year, many experience heat illness, which often manifests as heat exhaustion. This can be a real danger if not quickly addressed and can be fatal without the proper precautions. As we move into the warmer months, it is very important to take the steps necessary to keep students safe in extreme heat. Drinking water often, taking breaks, and limiting time in the heat are simple, effective ways to prevent heat illness.
What is heat illness?
Heat illness is the result of the body overheating, much the way your car can overheat in hot weather. Normally, the body's "coolant" system prevents overheating. As perspiration evaporates, it cools the skin which cools the body and maintains a proper body temperature. Blood vessels also help bring heat to the skin's surface and help cool it down. When students are playing in the heat, especially when it's humid, their "coolant" system can get overloaded causing heart rate and body temperature to rise. This increases the risk of heart attack in people with heart disease. This heat can also affect the brain. A rise in body temperature of as little as 2 degrees can negatively impact brain function, making heat an underlying cause of sports and playing injuries. A 5 degrees rise in body temperature can be fatal. The first signs of trouble include symptoms such as fatigue, thirst, discomfort and lightheadedness. Simple heat stress, however, can quickly become heat exhaustion if early symptoms are ignored. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include a pale or flushed appearance, moist & clammy skin, weakness, dizziness, headache and nausea. Untreated heat exhaustion can become heat stroke. The heat stroke victim stops sweating, has hot, dry reddish skin, has a rapid pulse and feels hot to the touch, may be confused or delirious, may suffer convulsions, and may become unconscious.
Twenty percent of heat stroke victims die. Those who survive may suffer brain and kidney damage.
To help prevent students from becoming overcome by warmer weather, the Center of Disease Control offers these tips for preventing heat-related illness:
The best defense is prevention. Here are some prevention tips for your students:
- Have them drink more fluids regardless of their activity level - don’t wait until they’re thirsty to drink
- Don’t have them drink liquids that contain large amounts of sugar–these actually cause people to lose more body fluid
- Very cold drinks should be avoided because they can cause stomach cramps
- Have them stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place
- Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
- Have students wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
If students must be out in the heat:
- Limit student outdoor activity to morning and evening hours
- Cut down on exercise. Have them drink two to four glasses of cool fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals they lose in sweat.
Warning: If students are on a low-salt diet, get approval from their doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
- Try to have them rest often in shady areas
- Have them protect themselves from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps them cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).