How to avoid heat illness in high temperatures

Katarina De Almeida/Lariat

Tips from Saddleback College’s dean of kinesiology and athletics can help you prepare for physical activity during the upcoming summer months.

A recent lawsuit filed against California State University, San Bernardino resulted in a settlement of $39.5 million after a student suffered heatstroke during a kinesiology class run on Sept. 26, 2018, that left her severely brain-damaged and immobile.

The legal firm of Panish Shea & Boyle, which represents the injured student, released a statement indicating that faculty on campus had neglected to take action in providing proper treatment for the injured student, resulting in long-term damage.

“Evidence established that neither the instructor nor the other California State University, San Bernardino employees had received required Cal-OSHA Consultant Services training in heat illness prevention and treatment before the incident,” the release said.

Fortunately, Saddleback has training in place to provide preventative safety measures during campus activities. Daniel Clauss, the dean of kinesiology and athletics at Saddleback is very familiar with the process.

“South Orange County Community College District has a heat illness prevention program,” Clauss said.  “It outlines steps, prevention, care [and] reporting of all heat illnesses on campus for employees and students. We also have a safety training that employees take through our risk management office on heat illness prevention.”

Should dangerous conditions arise, faculty at Saddleback adhere to guidelines that have been created to prevent possible injury or illness.

“In athletics, we have a governing body, the California Community College Athletic Association, which has a constitution and bylaws,” Clauss said. “Bylaw 9.7 talks about environmental conditions, which does require us to monitor the weather. We use the National Weather Service Heat Index Chart.”

National Weather Service Heat Index Chart/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

“If I know we are approaching the heat index, I will notify all the coaches and faculty in kinesiology and give them a reminder,” Clauss said. “I will make sure there is plenty of water available for all students when those days have hit, but we also monitor the weather hourly when it starts reaching those thresholds.” 

Southern California can reach temperatures that surpass 113 degrees and during these sweltering hot days, athletes and students alike should be aware. When Clauss monitors the weather as it reaches a higher index, he will typically look for other alternatives, like the campus gym or cancel altogether

With summer approaching, it is key for people to pay attention to the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and take important precautions prior to exposing themselves to high temperatures during outdoor exercise. When looking for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, Clauss describes specific symptoms to be mindful of.

“With heat exhaustion or heat stroke, you’re really looking for a temperature of 103 degrees or higher, and hot, dry skin, which could be red or even bluish,” Clauss said. “There could be some confusion, loss of consciousness, convulsions, [and] absence of sweating is another one, which means you have a lack of water.”

Heat exhaustion results from a loss of fluid through sweating, or a lack of fluid to replace mineral loss, sometimes a combination of both. High temperatures and heat also contribute. Heat illnesses are caused by the failure of a body’s internal mechanism to regulate its core temperature.

Personal factors can make you more susceptible to potential heat illness. Age, personal health, fitness, obesity and other health conditions, stress, dehydration, alcohol usage, certain drugs or medications or supplements, can all contribute to a higher risk of heatstroke or exhaustion.

“Another big one is a lack of acclimatization to hot weather, like, if people are in an air-conditioned house and they go into extreme heat temperatures,” Clauss said. “There are also environmental factors, depending on your metabolic load, the type of clothes you’re wearing, the duration of your activity, all contribute to potential complications.”

To prepare for physical activity in high temperatures, be sure to acclimate yourself to the heat. Schedule your activity for cooler times in the day, monitor the weather and wear lighter clothing. Alejandro Munoz, an emergency medical technician, shares some insight on how other ways to prepare for the heat.

“One of the best ways to avoid [heatstroke] is to be well prepared,” Munoz said. “I cannot stress enough how important it is to bring plenty of water with you, especially if you plan on going on a secluded hike or trail.”

Should someone suffer from a heat illness, Clauss recommends following potentially life-saving techniques to prevent severe injury.

“Depending on the severity, I would have them lay down with their feet slightly elevated,” Clauss said. “You’ll want to loosen their clothing, get them into the shade, away from the heat, and give them a cool, wet cloth. You’ll also want to fan them and obviously have them drink water.”

Untreated heatstroke could lead to a loss of consciousness, convulsions, and even a coma, which could cause brain damage, similar to the injuries sustained by the kinesiology student at California State University, San Bernardino. Furthermore, organ failure, such as kidney failure, is also another risk of untreated heat illness.

Additional information on heat illnesses can be found on the Centers for Disease Control website.