Many mission teams travel to climates that are much hotter than they’re used to. It’s important to keep an eye on your team members while working in the heat of the day. If you’re unprepared for heat-related illness, things can get hot fast. Excessive heat is defined as temperatures that hover 10 degrees or more above the average high for the region and is coupled with high humidity. According to The American Red Cross, heat has caused more deaths than all other weather events in recent years, including floods, and kills more than 1,000 people each year.
The mildest heat-related condition, heat cramps, consists of muscle pain and spasms caused by heavy physical exertion in high heat. While not deadly, heat cramps are a warning sign that your body is becoming stressed by the heat. If any members of your church develop muscle cramps, it is important to:
- Get them out of the heat immediately.
- Have them rest in a comfortable position.
- Lightly stretch and gently massage the affected muscle.
- Give them a half a glass of water every 15 minutes (not alcohol or caffeine).
Heat exhaustion is the second most serious of the three heat-related disorders. Symptoms may appear suddenly or over a few hours. Some symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin
- Dizziness, exhaustion and nausea
- Goosebumps, in spite of the heat
- Dizziness, exhaustion and nausea
- Heavy sweating
- Low blood pressure upon standing
- Muscle cramps
- Rapid pulse or weak, rapid pulse
If you suspect that people are suffering from heat exhaustion, it is important to:
- Get them into an air-conditioned building or vehicle. If an air-conditioned environment is not available, move them to a shaded area.
- Have them rest on their backs, with their legs higher than their heart level.
- Make them drink cool fluids—stick to water.
- ]Apply cool water to their skin.
- Loosen clothing, and remove any clothing that is unnecessary.
- Seek medical attention if they don’t begin to feel better within 60 minutes, or if body temperature reaches 104ºF or higher.
Pro tip: Always keep a first-aid kit with a thermometer and instant cold packs on hand.
Heatstroke is the most serious of the three heat-related conditions. It is a medical emergency requiring immediate professional medical attention to prevent brain damage, organ failure, or death. Call 911 immediately. Here are some steps you can take to help prevent permanent injury or death while waiting for emergency responders to arrive:
- Get them into an air-conditioned building or vehicle.
- Apply cool water to their skin.
Symptoms of heatstroke include:
- Very high body temperature
- Changes in consciousness
- Lack of sweating
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Seizures, hallucinations, or difficulty speaking
If you know your team is traveling to a hot climate, it is important to warn participants of the danger excessive heat poses. Here are some tips to keep everyone healthy and cool, in spite of the heat:
- Don’t schedule outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day.
- Take frequent breaks in the shade or an air-conditioned space to allow everyone to cool down and rehydrate.
- Ask participants to dress appropriately for the environment—loose fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing is best.
- Provide water for participants, and encourage them to drink large amounts before, during, and after physical activity.
- Always keep a first-aid kit with a thermometer and instant cold packs on hand, so that you can check the temperature of participants, and cool them off if they are dangerously hot.