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5 things you need to know to prevent heatstroke

Protect yourself against heat-related illness on the job by recognizing the risks and taking a few basic precautions


The following is paid content sponsored by Propper International.

By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff

As the temperature rises, so does the risk of heat-related illness. If you must be on duty outdoors, particularly in humid climates, it’s important to recognize the dangers of heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Take action to stay safe while working in the summer heat. Drink plenty of water, opt for a lightweight uniform and wear sunscreen. (image Wikimedia Commons)
Take action to stay safe while working in the summer heat. Drink plenty of water, opt for a lightweight uniform and wear sunscreen. (image Wikimedia Commons)

The first stage of heat-related illness is heat exhaustion: You feel very hot and begin to sweat less as you become dehydrated. Left untreated, this can lead to heatstroke: Your body is no longer able to cool itself and your temperature rises to a dangerous 104 degrees or more.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke include:

  • High body temperature
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Flushed/red skin, dry skin/lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Racing heart rate

Watch out for changes in mental state or behavior as well. Dehydration can cause confusion, agitation, slurred speech and irritability. Heatstroke may also cause delirium, seizures and coma.

Here are five things you can do to prevent heatstroke:

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

It’s critical that you stay hydrated to help your body sweat and maintain a normal temperature. Your body can produce two gallons of sweat or more during a day’s work in the heat.

Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, says the CDC. Drink more than you think you need to replace – aim for an 8-ounce glass at least every half hour you’re out in the heat.

Water is your best choice. But because heat-related illness also can result from salt depletion, WebMD advises that it may be a good idea to substitute an electrolyte-rich sports drink to ward off muscle cramps.

Don’t forget to provide extra water for your K9s. Keep a spray bottle handy to spritz both yourself and the dog – the mist will help cool you as it evaporates.

2. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. 

This is one of the simplest ways to cope with the heat and allow your body to cool itself. Tight clothing doesn’t allow air to circulate against your skin, making it harder for your sweat to evaporate.

Consider investing in lightweight uniform pieces designed for the summer. You want a heat-friendly uniform that still has the same professional look and functionality, such as Propper International’s summerweight line of tactical pants and shirts. These offer the same tactical features as a standard uniform but in lightweight, moisture-wicking fabric that helps keep you cooler and more comfortable.

“Synthetic fibers wick moisture quicker than natural fibers,” said Joe Ruggeri, vice president of product development for Propper. “Moisture-wicking material keeps you cooler than cotton because the sweat evaporates faster.”

A mesh vent in the back of the uniform shirt also encourages airflow for increased cooling and evaporation, and the garments provide protection against sunburn with a UPF rating of 50, which means that very little UV radiation can pass through the fabric.

3. Use sunscreen.

Sunburns raise your temperature and damage your body’s ability to cool itself – not to mention increasing your risk for skin cancer. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply generously, and remember to reapply every two hours.

Also consider a hat, like a baseball cap – or better yet, a wide-brimmed boonie that shades your face and neck.

“Anytime you’re going to be outside where there’s sunshine, a hat is always a good idea to keep the top of your head from getting burned,” said Nicki Stukheil, product merchandiser for Propper. “You’re going to get a lot more protection with the 360-degree coverage of a boonie hat than you would with a standard baseball cap.”

4. Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle. 

This includes your K9. On a 90-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar as high as 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes. It’s not safe, even if the windows are cracked and the vehicle is in the shade.

5. Give yourself time to adjust.

Gradually spend more time working or exercising in hot weather until your body becomes acclimated to it. You will still need to stay hydrated on hot days on duty, but the heat will be less of a shock to your system.

What to do if you or someone nearby shows symptoms of heatstroke

First, call for an ambulance. Next, take steps to cool off, like removing excess clothing, fanning/misting the skin or soaking in a cool pond or fountain. If you can, move into the shade, or better yet, an air-conditioned place like a shopping mall or movie theater.

Drink tepid water (cold water can cause stomach cramps) and place ice packs on the neck, armpits and groin to reduce body temperature until EMS arrives.

You can’t choose your duty assignment, but with a little caution and a lot of water, you can protect yourself against heatstroke. If you think you or someone near you may be suffering from a heat-related illness, don’t hesitate to call for medical help.

For more information on lightweight uniforms, visit Propper International.

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