Heat stress occurs when the body cannot cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature. Heat-related illnesses include heat rash, heat cramps, dizziness or fainting, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and a worsening of existing medical conditions. Overexertion in hot weather, sun or bushfire exposure, and exercising or working in hot, poorly ventilated or confined areas can increase your risk of heat stress. When the air temperature or humidity rises above the range for comfort, problems can arise. The first effects relate to how you feel. Exposure to more heat can cause health problems and may affect performance.
Dehydration – to keep healthy, our body temperature needs to stay around 37°C. The body cools itself by sweating, which normally accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of the body’s heat loss. If a person becomes dehydrated, they don’t sweat as much and their body temperature keeps rising.
Lack of airflow – working in hot, poorly ventilated or confined areas.
Sun exposure – especially on hot days, between 11am and 3pm.
Hot and crowded conditions – people attending large events (concerts, dance parties or sporting events) in hot or crowded conditions may also experience heat stress that can result in illness.
Bushfires – exposure to radiant heat from bushfires can cause rapid dehydration and heat-related illness. Bushfires usually occur when the temperature is high, which adds to the risk.
If someone is experiencing heat cramps or heat exhaustion, they need to stop activities, get out of the sun and cool off right away. If steps are not taken to cool down, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. At this point, sweating may stop, but the body temperatures gets very high. There can also be vomiting, loss of consciousness, hyperventilation and seizures. Heat stroke requires immediate professional medical care.
During a heat wave, it's important to know and be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness. There are different types of heat-related illnesses, ranging from those that cause temporary discomfort to the generally fatal condition known as heat stroke. In all heat-related illnesses, the symptoms appear when a person is exposed to extreme temperatures.
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