Are you more susceptible to heat stroke if you’ve already had it?
The chances of you suffering from heat stroke again are certainly greater, but easy steps can keep you in control.
Exertional heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly during strenuous physical activity, such as exercise or work over long periods in hot conditions. With exertional heat stroke, the body’s core temperature rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) and the central nervous system malfunctions, triggering symptoms that range from irrational behavior, dizziness, irritability, to collapsing. Exertional heat stroke frequently occurs during the hot, summer months, but it can happen anytime – especially if you’re working in hot, humid environments. If your body isn’t cooled within about 30 minutes, you risk permanent complications and even death.
Can you fully recover from a bought of exertional heat stroke?
In short, yes. However, in the process you may have damaged bodily functions which regulate internal body temperature, causing you to now experience heat intolerance. This too can resolve itself within a few months, but it does take time. And, time is often not something that farmworkers are allotted, either by circumstances out of their control or personal obligations.
The real question becomes: what caused you to be at risk for heat stroke in the first place? Perhaps you were sleep deprived, dehydrated, or not properly acclimatized to the conditions in which you were working. Whatever the reason was, the problem remains the same for putting you at risk in the future. There are a number of causes and a list of symptoms to look out for when identifying heat stroke. All of this information is key to maintaining a healthy body and forgoing any future risk on the job.
A day without work is a day without pay, which is why most farmworkers fail to report any incidence of a heat-related illness or even rush back to work after having suffered from one. Persons who exhibit any of the signs or symptoms of heat stroke require prompt medical attention to avoid any potentially lethal complications. In the absence of swift and proper medical attention, those who experience heat stroke can develop permanent brain or organ damage, leading to everlasting physical or mental disabilities.
Understanding that farm work is not a stable job and farmworkers are often viewed as expendable, it is clear why no wants to miss a day of work. Nevertheless, returning to the fields or the packing house too soon could prove detrimental to your health – especially if you attempt to return to work at the same volume and speed you were working prior to illness. Working harder to make up for lost time or perceived weakness could potentially set you up for another disaster. You need to make sure that you allow yourself enough time to fully recover, and then take the necessary precautions to prevent future episodes. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures following a heat stroke can cause the body to shut down completely, leading to death.
According to Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, “each year, millions of people are exposed to the dangers of extreme heat. Outdoor laborers compose the largest percentage of patients with heat-related illnesses.” It because of this that AFOP Health & Safety has a dedicated training specifically on recognizing the signs and symptoms of not just heat stroke but heat exhaustion as well as the how to prevent those heat related illnesses.
What’s more, this month brings our annual Heat Stress Prevention Training Marathon, where our trainers ramp up their heat stress trainings nationwide to reach more farmworkers than ever during these hot months. For more information check out our website. Stay cool out there!
Adelakun A, Schwartz E, Blais L. Occupational heat exposure. Appl Occup Environ Hyg. 1999;14:153–4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/104732299303070