Be mindful of hydration, exposure, clothing to prevent heat-related injuries

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Michael Sinon
  • 8th Medical Operations Squadron
Imagine a hot, balmy, late spring day in South Korea.

That was the setting in May 2002 at Osan AB, where I had my own personal experience with heat exhaustion.

Three medics and I were on an initial response team during an operational readiness exercise. We were called to a scenario with multiple patients on the flight line. As we arrived on scene, adrenaline pumping, we went to work triaging and loading our patients. We were on scene for less than 10 minutes when I began to notice how incredibly hot I was beginning to feel. Not only was the sun baking us, but the asphalt was as well. Did I mention we were in mission-oriented protective posture 4?

If you add all of that up, heat, plus MOPP4, plus exposure equals heat-related injury. So, on that day in May 2002, it wasn't the exercise patients who were transported in an ambulance back to the hospital, it was four initial response medics. If you would like to avoid your own private ride in an ambulance for heat-related injuries, here are a few tips you should follow.

First, ensure you stay properly hydrated. Do not wait until you begin to feel thirsty. Water and sports drinks are excellent choices to maintain hydration.

Try to avoid drinks that contain caffeine, carbonation or both. Caffeine is a natural diuretic, so it causes your body to increase urine production. Therefore, you become dehydrated at an increased rate. Carbonated drinks interfere with the function of the digestive tract. If you combine increased urine production and altered digestive function, you have a recipe for disaster.

The second factor you want to minimize is exposure. Ensure you are using proper work and rest cycles. The warmer the ambient temperature directly correlates with how your body works to cool itself by sweating. Higher temperatures equal more sweat, which could lead to dehydration.

Lastly, you want to consider how you are dressed. If you wear multiple layers of clothes, your body will not be able to rapidly dissipate heat. If you feel like you may be in the early stages of heat stress, remove yourself from the hot environment by finding some shade or going inside a cool room, take off any excess clothing items, and ensure you are hydrating. Though not all-inclusive, if you follow these steps you should be able to avoid a heat-related injury and a private ride in the back of an ambulance.

For further information, please see page 180 of the Airman's Manual AFPAM 10-100.