Extreme Heat - Preventing and Identifying Heat-Related Illness

Kids eating watermelon

In extreme temperatures and humidity, it is important to train staff on the dangers of heat-related illnesses, signs of heat-related illnesses, and appropriate preventative measures.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines extreme heat as, “summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for a location at that time of year. Children, especially children who are physically active, are at a higher risk for heat related-illnesses."

Información en enfermedad relacionada con el calor en Español

Top Tips for Camps

  1. Provide for frequent hydration: When weather is especially hot, increasing fluid intake is essential, regardless of activity level according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The CDC recommendation that during outdoor activities in a hot environment, everyone should drink two to four glasses (16–32 ounces) of cool fluids - preferably water - each hour. This does not include liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar — these actually cause the loss of more body fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.  Consider offering foods with high water content such as melons and other fruits.
  2. Ensure campers and staff wear appropriate clothing and use sunscreen properly: Lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing is ideal according to the CDC. Sunburn affects the body's ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. When outdoors, the CDC recommends SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels) 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply according to the package directions. Set up your procedures so all staff and campers use and reapply sunscreen properly.
  3. Schedule outdoor activities carefully: Consider opportunities for shade and schedule mid-day activities with heat-safety in mind.  See the resources section below for recommendations.
  4. Train front-line staff to be observant for signs of heat-related illnesses: All staff, and especially staff who are outside with campers, should be trained to see the warning signs, both in themselves and the campers in their care.  Ensure that your health care staff are fully trained.  Great free courses and resources are available below in the resources section.

Warning Signs of Heat-Related Illness

  • Heat Rash: Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.
    • Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters.
    • It is more likely to occur on the neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.
  • Heat Cramps: Heat cramps usually affect those 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.
    • Muscle pain or spasms usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs.
  • Heat Exhaustion:  Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are those that are elderly, have high blood pressure, and those working in a hot environment.
    • Heavy sweating, weakness, cold/pale/clammy skin, fast and weak pulse, nausea and/or vomiting, fainting.
  • Heat Stroke: 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, the body temperature can rise to 106° F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given. The CDC defines heat stroke as a medical emergency and recommends that you call 911 immediately, move the person to a cooler location, reduce the person's body temperature with cold cloths and/or a bath, and to NOT give fluids until trained medical attention arrives.
    • Body temperature above 103° F, hot/red dry or moist skin, rapid and strong pulse, possible unconsciousness.

Resources