The Mustangs of Osan Air Base are feeling the heat, with four Airmen being hospitalized in the last two weeks, but there are ways stay protected during a heat wave.
To combat mild to severe heat-related illnesses and dehydration, local experts provide guidance to keep cool, whether enjoying summer activities or performing hard work outdoors.
Capt. Jenell Brown, 51st Medical Group public health flight commander, outlined three stumbling blocks that can lead to hospitalization: not knowing the proper signs and symptoms of heat-related injuries and dehydration, not feeling empowered to speak up, and the notion to work harder to complete work sooner while hydrating later.
“Be informed about what the signs of heat illnesses are,” Brown said. “You can’t help your wingman if you’re not truly informed, and then you need to feel empowered to speak up. Know yourself and how far you can push yourself. If your wingman is experiencing signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, stop all activity and move that person to a cooler place. If they’re truly suffering, they’re passed out and you’re waiting on emergency services, lay them down and try to cover as much of their body as possible with a cool, damp cloth. Try to cool down their body temperature until emergency services arrives.”
Symptoms of heat injuries can range, depending on severity, Brown said.
“For a heat stroke, we’re looking at a high body temperature of 103 degrees or greater,” she said. “The skin will become hot and red, the person may experience headaches, dizziness, nausea and confusion, oftentimes mumbling, and they can start stumbling while they walk and can sometimes result in a loss of consciousness.
Brown said a heat stroke is a medical emergency and advises a wingman to move the symptomatic person to a cooler place, loosen their clothing and call emergency services immediately.
Through careful decision-making, most symptoms, especially those of more severe illnesses, may be avoided.
“Be proactive in hydration and in food preparation and consumption,” said Maj. Maggie Coppini, 51st MDG aerospace physiologist and human performance flight commander. “Sometimes we don’t feel like eating when its hot outside, but it’s important to maintain adequate diet and eat every couple of hours or to get that sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes in your system to make sure water is retained within your body.”
“It’s easier for Airmen to become dehydrated when they aren’t acclimated to the heat, which results in increased dehydration and loss of valuable electrolytes, she said.
Tech Sgt. Ethan May, 51st Fighter Wing occupational safety noncommissioned officer in charge said that given the high temperatures and humidity of the Korean summer, newcomers may be especially at risk.
“Definitely take some time to acclimitaize when you get here,” he said, “If you’re not used to the heat and humidity, don’t assume you’ll be able to immediately jump into the same level of activity you were used to. There’s a big human factor in everything we see. In the military, we push to get the mission done. We want to be counted on. We want to be known as someone who gets things done. Somebody might be motivated to push through something that doesn’t feel right to get that mission done. Maybe to impress others or to look good or to not be looked at differently.”
Finally, with dozens of bars lining the streets of Songtan right outside the base’s main gate, Coppini reminds Airmen that alcohol is a diuretic which causes faster dehydration.
“If you are going to go out drinking, for every drink you have, space it out with a drink of water,” she said. “That will help maintain fluid retention so it isn’t one alcoholic beverage after another. The easiest way to check and see how hydrated you are is to look at the color of your urine. Go for [the color of] lemonade, not apple juice.”
Coppini said to think of a water bottle as a gas tank.
“Go nowhere without it and don’t let it empty. You should always be attached to a water source. Depending on your workspace, find a way to have access to water at all times,” she said.
Information in this article has been provided by the Korean Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (KCDC).