The weather is still cool in much of the country, and warm springs have not yet given way to hot summers. Oppressive heat is just around the corner, though, so now is the perfect time to brush up on sun safety. Many first responders focus solely on the effects the sun can have on patients. EMS professionals are just as vulnerable, especially in hot regions where they must spend long days in the sun. Here are five things you need to know to keep yourself safe while tending to patients.
Heat Illness Is Common
Heat-related illnesses are among the most common summer maladies. Minor cases may not require medical treatment, but serious cases can be life-threatening. Heat injuries are a leading cause of weather-related deaths, killing more people than natural disasters. Yet almost all cases are preventable. With prompt intervention, even severe heat exhaustion and heat stroke are treatable so it is important to take heat illness seriously. Monitor all patients for signs of heat-related illness—not just those whose presenting complaint is a result of the heat.
Patients with high temperatures, loss of consciousness, nausea, confusion, a rapid pulse, or high blood pressure should be transported.
First responders should be mindful of how the heat affects their own health. One recent study found an increase in kidney disease among workers exposed to extreme heat. Stay cool by using air conditioning, replenishing fluids, and monitoring your body for signs of heat exhaustion.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
A few simple strategies can protect you from the sun’s damaging rays. These simple measures can prove life-saving for those at risk of heat stroke and can greatly reduce the lifetime risk of skin cancer. Consider educating your community about sun safety, and be sure to implement the following measures for yourself:
- Wear long-sleeved, light-colored clothing if your dress code allows it.
- Cover your head and ears with a hat.
- Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15. You need more sunscreen than you think you do, so err on the side of applying too much.
- Stay in the shade. When treating patients, avoid direct sunlight, which can compound the effects of many illnesses and subject you both to heat exhaustion.
In hot weather, you sweat more. That’s doubly true when you’re tending to patients, walking or running to an ambulance, or under stress. Drink more water than you think you need. Store extra water in your trauma kit and your ambulance and know the early signs of dehydration, which include strong thirst, chapped lips, and a dry mouth.
If patients are able to drink, give them water, even if they do not appear dehydrated. Patients who show signs of dehydration should receive intravenous fluids.
Your Eyes Are Vulnerable
The sun doesn't just burn your skin; it can also damage your eyes. If it’s bright enough out to squint, then it’s bright enough for the sun to injure your eyes. Long-term UV exposure is a major contributor to cataracts. Wear large sunglasses that fully cover your eyes and that are UV-rated. Glasses marked as UV 400 are the safest option. For more protection, select glasses that sit close to the skin and wrap around.
Some People Are More at Risk Than Others
Some populations are more at risk of heat-related illness than others. Children, the elderly, overweight and obese adults, people with compromised immune systems, and those with metabolic disorders are more vulnerable to dehydration and heat-related exhaustion. When treating these groups, keep them cool and out of the sun, while taking proactive measures to prevent dehydration.
Heat-related illnesses can compromise the airway, especially if a person loses consciousness. The right portable suction device allows you to quickly tend to the patient, ensuring hypoxia does not compound heat exhaustion. For help selecting the right portable suction device for your agency, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device.