By Sgt. Kerensa Hardy
First published in
SFOR Informer#116, June 27, 2001
Summer is officially here, although sometimes
it's hard to tell because the weather changes so much. Along with
summer comes the threat of hot-weather injuries. Make sure you
know how to protect yourself.
Camp Butmir - Although the Balkans' weather has
been unpredictable and one never knows what it will be from day
to day, summer is here.
As SFOR personnel pull out shorts, tank tops, swimsuits and sunscreen,
it's important to remember that along with the sun comes the possibility
of heat-related injuries.
"This region's high ambient temperatures present a significant
health threat to our deployed soldiers, especially during the
summer months," said American Maj. Tom Delk, Preventive Medicine
Officer. As an example, Delk said temperatures have gone as high
as 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer months
- July and August. "These extreme temperatures produce undue
stress on the human body, which may lead to heat injuries."
Types of heat injuries
There are three main types of heat injuries: heat cramps, heat
exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat cramps is the least serious of the three. Symptoms for this
injury include painful cramps in the arms, legs and stomach. Heat
cramps are usually caused by loss of electrolytes through sweating.
Treatment for heat cramps is moving to a shaded area, loosening
restricting clothing and drinking water to re-hydrate.
Heat exhaustion is the next serious injury and its symptoms may
include excessive sweating, headache, tingling sensation in the
arms and legs, difficulty breathing, rapid pulse, nausea or vomiting
and cool, moist skin. The patient should be moved to a shaded
area, re-hydrated and medical attention should be sought as soon
The third and most severe of heat injuries is heat stroke.
"Heat stroke is a medical emergency characterised by a high
death rate," Delk emphasised. A victim of heat stroke may
initially display signs of heat cramps or heat exhaustion, but
heat stroke can set in suddenly and result in loss of consciousness.
Early symptoms include hot, red, dry skin and high body temperature
- 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit). The same first
aid steps should be applied as in the other two heat injuries.
Additionally, the patient should be immersed in cool water, if
available, to lower the body temperature. Seeking medical attention
is vital in cases involving heat stroke, as this injury may result
"Besides just high ambient temperatures, there are a number
of human factors that can set a person up for heat injury,"
Those susceptible to heat injuries include individuals who are
not used to hot weather, those who are overweight or tired, personnel
who eat hot, heavy meals when it's hot outside, and persons who
consume large quantities of alcohol. Some over-the-counter drugs
(cold medicine or anti-diarrhoea medication) stop sweating, which
is the natural way the body cools itself. Wearing tight clothes
also prevents heat loss.
When in a hot climate it is very important to drink plenty of
water. "During periods of moderate activity and conditions,
individuals should drink half a litre of water in 20- to 30-minute
intervals," Delk stressed. With increased activity and temperatures,
water consumption should also be increased.
Eating three square meals a day is a way to replace electrolytes.
Acclimatising personnel to high temperatures, implementing work/rest
schedules and working during the cooler hours of the day are other
preventative measures. Wearing loose-fitting clothing, limiting
exposure to sun, protecting the face and eyes and using sun screen
also offer protection and may prevent heat-related injuries.
"All heat injuries are preventable," Delk said. "Taking
the proper protection measures will prevent heat stress from becoming
a significant health threat to deployed soldiers."
This article was composed using information provided by CJMED.