the law enforcement world, we deal with threats of all varieties and
from a host of unlikely (or at least unexpected) sources. While we focus
on all those threats and we take weeks of training on how to avoid
them, counter them and mitigate them, we sometimes end up completely
ignoring environmental factors that can cause us an equal or greater
concern. This article focuses on heat related injuries or illnesses; or
simply “being too hot.”
There are three well-known heat injuries
that you can experience and two hydration-related concerns that are
related to them. The three heat injuries are heat cramps, heat
exhaustion and heat stroke. The two hydration concerns are dehydration
and hyponatremia. Let’s first take a
Cramps: Heat cramps are the involuntary and sometimes painful spasming
of muscles anywhere in your body. They occur most often during heavy
exercise or prolonged muscle group use in hot environments. Many people
who experience heat cramps don’t even realize that the cramps are heat
related. Human muscles often twitch or spasm for apparently no reason
and if you experience that often enough, having it happen outside on a
hot day while you’re working or exercising may not seem out of place.
However, you should be aware of your work environment and of the
potential. Heat cramps won’t always occur prior to other heat injuries,
but if you do experience them, they are a warning you should not ignore. Everyone knows they need to drink enough water but what’s enough? And is there such a thing as too much?
heat cramps is fairly simple (if you recognize them as such): while
heat cramps may dissipate on their own, you can assist them in going
away by resting in a cool area. Drink some water or a sports
drink—something with some electrolytes in it. Massaging cramped or
cramping muscles can help but do so with a softer rather than firmer
touch. You aren’t trying to accomplish deep tissue massage; you’re
simply trying to help relax the muscle. After the cramp is fully
dissipated, you might try to mild stretching before returning to work.
Exhaustion is the next level heat injury and can be very dangerous if
not treated quickly and properly. Heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy
sweating and a rapid pulse. The challenge most often experienced is
that an officer is exercising or working out in the heat and the
accelerated pulse rate seems normal. Sweating in a uniform seems normal.
When the sweat exceeds “normal” and your heart rate is faster than
you’ve experienced during cardiovascular exercise, you’d better be
paying attention. Other symptoms may include thirst, fatigue, a headache
and nausea. Heat cramps may accompany or occur before heat exhaustion.
for heat exhaustion is to get out of the heat (seems simple, right?).
Find a cool or air-conditioned indoor space and if none such is
available, find some shade. Loosen your uniform if you can and drink
some water or a sports drink—again, something with some electrolytes in
it. If it’s safe and possible, take off your body armor. As great as it
is for protection, it’s usually a great insulator—which means it’s like
wearing a winter vest around your torso. Remove it if you can safely and
let your torso cool off.
Heat stroke is the most serious
heat-related illness. It occurs when the body can no longer 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 victims need to be treated immediately to prevent
brain injuries and other organ damage. Heat stroke symptoms include
nausea, confusion, seizures, dry skin (because sweating has stopped) and
a core temperature over 104°F. A loss of consciousness can occur.
for heat stroke is to immediately begin cooling the victim. Call 911
and while you’re waiting on an ambulance to arrive, move the victim to
an indoor, air-conditioned area. If none such is available, move them
into the shade and begin cooling them by loosening their
clothing/uniform and fan the while moistening their skin with water. If
available, apply ice packs to their arm pits, groin and neck. The goal
is to, as quickly as possible, get their core temperature back down to
101°F or close thereto.
let’s discuss hydration. Everyone knows they need to drink enough water
but what’s enough? And is there such a thing as too much? If you don’t
drink enough water you can suffer from dehydration. The most recognized
symptom of dehydration is thirst. The second best known symptom is dark
colored urine or lack of need to urinate. If you are working in a hot
environment, or even a moderately temperate environment with enough
effort to cause yourself to sweat (like riding a patrol bike on a 75°F
sunny day), you should be drinking enough water to have to urinate every
four to six hours. Understand that sodas, coffee and other caffeinated
drinks, are not helping you hydrate. Caffeine is a diuretic and
therefore helps your body void water and sodium. If you experience
dehydration symptoms, drinking water, an electrolyte-rich drink (such as
sports drinks) or Pedialyte can help you quickly rehydrate.
other hydration concern is when, believe it or not, you drink too much
water. Hyponatremia is when you drink so much water that you cause an
imbalance, on the low side, of electrolytes and sodium in your body.
Symptoms of hyponatremia can include headaches, dizziness, nausea and
cramps. Treatment usually requires an IV solution to replace
electrolytes and sodium in your system.
complicates or accelerates the impact of heat related injuries such as
cramps or exhaustion. Cooling and rehydration can often correct mild
heat injuries before they become life threatening or cause permanent,