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Extreme Heat and Cold

Heat

Be aware of yours and others’ risk for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and fainting. To avoid heat stress, you should:

  • Drink a glass of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes and at least one gallon each day.
    • Avoid alcohol and caffeine. They both dehydrate the body.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Take frequent cool showers or baths.
  • If you feel dizzy, weak, or overheated, go to a cool place. Sit or lie down, drink water, and wash your face with cool water. If you don’t feel better soon, get medical help quickly.
  • Work during cooler hours of the day when possible, or distribute the workload evenly throughout the day.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat illness. It happens when the body can’t control its own temperature and its temperature rises rapidly. Sweating fails and the body cannot cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency care is not given.

Warning signs of heat stroke vary but can include:

  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness, nausea, confusion, or unconsciousness
  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)

If you suspect someone has heat stroke, follow these instructions:

  • Immediately call for medical attention.
  • Get the person to a cooler area.
  • Cool the person rapidly by immersing him/her cool water or a cool shower, or spraying or sponging him/her with cool water. If the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him/her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • Do not give the person alcohol to drink. Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • If emergency medical personnel do not arrive quickly, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.

For more information on heat-related illnesses and treatment, see the CDC Extreme Heat website. Information for workers can be found on the NIOSH webpage Working in Hot Environments.
These resources also provide information about extreme heat:

Cold

Hypothermia happens when a person’s core body temperature is lower than 35°C (95°F). Hypothermia has three levels: acute, subacute, or chronic.

  • Acute hypothermia is caused by a rapid loss of body heat, usually from immersion in cold water.
  • Subacute hypothermia often happens in cool outdoor weather (below 10°C or 50°F) when wind chill, wet or too little clothing, fatigue, and/or poor nutrition lower the body’s ability to cope with cold.
  • Chronic hypothermia happens from ongoing exposure to cold indoor temperatures (below 16°C or 60°F). The poor, the elderly, people who have hypothyroidism, people who take sedative-hypnotics, and drug and alcohol abusers are prone to chronic hypothermia, and they typically:
    • misjudge cold
    • move slowly
    • have poor nutrition
    • wear too little clothing
    • have poor heating system

Causes of Hypothermia

  • Cold temperatures
  • Improper clothing, shelter, or heating
  • Wetness
  • Fatigue, exhaustion
  • Poor fluid intake (dehydration)
  • Poor food intake
  • Alcohol intake

Preventing Hypothermia

  • Everyone, especially the elderly and ill, should have adequate food, clothing, shelter, and sources of heat.
  • Blankets can help, even in poorly heated rooms.
  • In cold weather, wear layers of clothing and a hat, which help to keep in body heat.
  • Move around. Physical activity raises body temperature.

Water cooler than 75°F (24°C) removes body heat more rapidly than can be replaced. The result is hypothermia. To avoid hypothermia:

  • Avoid swimming or wading in water if possible.
    • If entering water is necessary:
  • Wear high rubber boots in water.
  • Ensure clothing and boots have adequate insulation.
  • Avoid working/playing alone.
  • Take frequent breaks out of the water.
  • Change into dry clothing when possible.

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