High temperatures and heat-related injuries can go hand in hand
June 20, 2011
By Brandy Gill
FORT HOOD, Texas " Summer may have started on June 21, but unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two months you’ve probably noticed it’s already really hot outside.
Many consider summer the season of endless fun in the sun, but Texas heat and humidity are both potential factors for serious, or even life-threatening, heat-related injuries.
In 2010, there were 1,734 reported heat injuries among Soldiers Army-wide. Of that number, 207 suffered from heat strokes, and sadly, one Soldier died, Maj. Rebecca Zinnante, the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center chief of environmental health said.
“Statistically those numbers may seem low, but it’s still frustrating because it (heat injury) is one of very few injuries that is completely preventable with training and proper acclimation,” she said.
Zinnante said what most people fail to understand is that heat injuries start with minor symptoms, but left untreated, they can lead to serious medical conditions or even death.
“Heat-related injuries are cumulative. Today’s dehydration can lead to tomorrow’s heat exhaustion and the next day’s heat stroke, and in extreme cases death,” she said.
Still, even though it’s hot outside, mission requirements must be met.
That’s why leaders should be able to balance meeting those requirements with the best interest of Soldiers, Sgt. George Soliz, CRDAMC noncommissioned officer in charge of preventive medicine, said.
“Soldiers need leadership support. Don’t wait for a policy letter. Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “If you are going to have Soldiers cut the grass or do a police call, have them do it in the morning right after PT instead of at 4 p.m. in the heat of the day.”
Sometimes however, Soldiers are training and there is no way to avoid the hottest part of the day. In those instances Soliz said it’s important to plan ahead.
“Make sure your Soldiers take breaks and always have plenty of water available,” he said.
Everyone should be aware of the widely varying symptoms of heat injury.
Some, like dry mouth, sunburn or heat rash are more common and are usually easy to recover from if you drink plenty of water, use sun block and rest regularly in a cool or shady location.
Other symptoms, like dizziness, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps or spasms, or an altered mental state are considered to be severe. If you are experiencing these symptoms you should seek medical aid immediately.
Several things can determine how heat will impact you.
If you are physically fit, well hydrated, get plenty of rest, proper sleep and eat balanced meals you are probably less likely to become a heat casualty.
On the other hand, if you smoke, are overweight, consume excessive alcohol or if you are taking medications that make you more sensitive to sunlight your chances of succumbing to heat-related illnesses increases.
Those who are new to extremely hot areas like Texas may be particularly at risk until they have had time to adjust to their new environment, which usually takes about two weeks, Zinnante said.
Following Army guidelines on how to prevent heat-related illnesses is even more important now since Central Texas is experiencing record-breaking temperatures. These temperatures have kept the Fort Hood area in heat category five (above 90 F) throughout the month of June, Senior Master Sgt. Paul Walker, operations superintendent with the 3rd Weather Squadron, said.
“The average high temperature for June at Fort Hood is 90 F, and through the 13th of the month, the average high temperature has been 97 F,” he said.
According to Walker, there may be no relief from the dangerously high heat any time soon.
“For the next two weeks, temperatures are forecast to remain 5-7 degrees above normal,” he said. “Long range temperature forecasts point to above normal temperatures throughout the summer.”
So whether you are training, working in the yard, playing sports or just hanging out you should always be aware of the temperatures, drink plenty of water and take regular breaks in a cool area.
“You can still beat the heat,” Zinnante said. “With proper rest, fluids and a good diet you don’t have to stop working or playing just because it’s heat category five.”
For additional information and resources on preventing heat injuries please visit the Army Public Health Command website at: http://phc.amedd.army.mil/Pages/default.aspx.
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