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Preventing Heat-Related Illness

Overexposure to the sun or heat can lead to cramps, exhaustion and even death. Proper protection is essential for preventing heat and sun related illness. Prevention is simple, effective and by far preferable to treatment. Proper prevention measures significantly reduce probability of sun related illness. Your actions in identifying and reacting to the signs of heat related illness could mean the difference between life and death. Over-exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can have detrimental effects on your skin.


Here are some tips you may follow to reduce the risks of skin cancer:
• Avoid midday sun (10:00am to 4:00pm).
• Apply a waterproof sunscreen (SPF of 30 or greater).
• Wear tightly woven clothing to block the sun’s rays.
• Wear a broad brimmed hat to shadow your face, neck and ears.

Also keep in mind that:
• Sunlight reflected from snow, water and concrete increases the intensity of light on your skin.
• Light cloud cover will not block or protect you from ultraviolet sunlight.
• Water does not filter most ultraviolet light, thus being underwater (e.g. Snorkeling) will not protect you from the sun.

Heat Illness Prevention:
• Prevention is the best defense against heat injuries.
• Avoid heavy physical exertion in hot conditions.
• Wear loose fitting, tightly woven and light colored clothing.
• Drink adequate fluids to replace your water loss when working hard in the outdoors. Tomato or orange juice is suitable.
• The danger of heat injury increases with higher humidity, age and the ingestion of alcohol or drugs.
• If you begin to feel ill or develop cramps, get out of the sun immediately and rest in a cool environment until you feel better.


Types of Heat Related Injuries

Heat Cramps usually occur in the most worked muscles after heavy exercise in the heat. A high level of humidity, recent ingestion of alcohol, or being over the age of forty may increase the likelihood of heat cramps.


• Remove the patient from the hot environment. Take the patient into the shade or into a cool sheltered area.
• Have the patient sit or lie down to rest the cramping muscles. The patient should attempt to gently stretch the affected muscles.
• Encourage the patient to drink orange or tomato juice, a soft drink or a commercially available sodium balanced thirst quencher. Do not give liquids to a patient who is unconscious or not alert.
• Remove any sweat with a damp cloth.
• If patient does not get better within 30 minutes, seek further medical attention. Dial 911 if necessary and ask for an ambulance. The paramedic dispatcher will give you further instructions.
Do not provide the patient with more water since this may further dilute the salt levels in the body. It is also not advisable to give the patient a salt water mix or salt tablets since these may have other negative effects on the patient.

Heat Exhaustion is caused by excessive loss of bodily fluids due to prolonged sweating, especially in a hot environment. The patient may present with signs and symptoms such as headache, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, thirst, giddiness, profuse sweating. The patient is usually cold and damp to the touch and skin may appear gray.


• Remove the patient from the hot environment. Take the patient into the shade, or preferably, into a sheltered, air conditioned environment.
• Remove any extra clothing and loosen any clothing which is tight or restrictive.
• Urge the patient to lie down.
• If the patient is conscious and alert, provide suitable fluids such as tomato or orange juice, soft drinks or other commercially available sodium balanced thirst quenchers.
Further medical attention is highly recommended. Dial 911 and ask for the ambulance. The paramedic dispatcher will give you further instructions.

Heat Stroke occurs when the body is subjected to more heat than the body can possibly handle. Heat stroke is a serious medical condition and may lead to death without immediate emergency medical attention. In heat stroke, body temperature rises too quickly resulting in the death of body tissue. The patient may present with chills, nausea and/or vomiting, throbbing in head, disorientation or gradually decreased sweating. The patient may eventually become unconscious.


• The patient’s life depends on rapid emergency medical care. Dial 911 and ask for an ambulance.
• The patient’s body must be cooled as rapidly as possible.
• Remove the patient from the hot environment and remove any excessive clothing while waiting for the ambulance.

For more safety information and safety tips, visit the Calgary EMS website at

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