Thermal stress, what is it about?

Thermal stress, what is it about?

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Thermal stress is a concept that we rarely hear, however, it exists and can affect us more than it seems. Imagine that we are hiking in broad daylight and under quite high heat conditions. Our excursion is through the mountains and it is summer. We are sweating a lot. We start to feel bad, we feel nauseous and dizzy. There is even a point where we stop sweating and the skin is hot. Most likely, we are being victims of thermal stress.

Throughout the article, you will be able to know what thermal stress is and what it is. We will know the factors that determine it and those that influence an overload. At the same time, we will delve into how certain individual factors affect and, finally, we will see what the consequences of this type of stress may be. Let's get started!


  • 1 thermal stress
  • 2 Individual factors that influence thermal stress
  • 3 Health effects of heat exposure
  • 4 Final reflection

Thermal stress

As described by Eugenia Monroy and Pablo Luna (2011), of the National Institute of Safety and Health at Work, "The thermal stress corresponds to the net heat load to which workers are exposed and that results from the combined contribution of the environmental conditions of the place where they work, the physical activity they perform and the characteristics of the clothes they wear".

The authors point out that "thermal overload is the physiological response of the human body to thermal stress and corresponds to the cost to the human body the necessary adjustment to maintain the internal temperature in the appropriate range ". In the case of thermal stress, rather than produce an alteration at the mental level - which also - an alteration occurs at the physical level.

Factors that determine potential thermal stress

  • RH.
  • Air temperature
  • Radiation.
  • Airspeed.
  • Type of clothing.
  • Metabolic activity

Parameters that allow controlling and determining thermal overload

  • Body temperature.
  • Heart rate
  • Sweating Rate

Despite the existence of a series of variables that can facilitate knowing both thermal stress and thermal overload, it is difficult to know if someone can be affected by this type of stress. External variables and the difference between individuals make it difficult to predict thermal stress.

Individual factors that influence thermal stress

Monroy and Luna (2011) list a series of individual factors that influence thermal stress.


Older people are more likely to suffer from peripheral circulation control complications or less ability to maintain hydration. In this way, they are more vulnerable to thermal stress.


Overweight favors thermal stress produced by the thermal insulation suffered by the body. Possible cardiovascular deficiencies and low physical condition also influence. Still, each person can assume a different case.


During thermal stress the loss of water occurs through sweat, so drinking water will be the main way to rehydrate. To do this, it will be good to drink from time to time, since in many cases, the sensation of thirst does not always equal the lost amount of water.

Medications and alcoholic beverages

In relation to medications, special attention should be given to those who are anticholinergic since they can inhibit sweat. Too sedatives can affect the feeling of thirst. Peripheral circulation is an important aspect in thermoregulation, so we must check if the drugs we take can affect.

Alcohol, even in low doses, decreases thermoregulation capacity (include vasomotor reflexes and sweating) and increases the probability of a voltage drop. Thus, alcohol affects the body's response in relation to thermal stress and produces peripheral vasodilation and diuresis.


Gender is not something that is still very clear on how it can affect. It depends a lot on the physical condition of each person rather than the gender itself. On the other hand, the authors point out that there are studies that ensure that an internal temperature of 38 degrees can cause temporary infertility. As well as risk of malformation in the fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy its mother's temperature exceeds 39 degrees for a long period.


It is a process that can last between 7 and 14 days. The body adapts, little by little, to work in hot conditions. Acclimatization occurs under certain conditions, so if they change, acclimatization is in danger. As Monroy and Luna point out, "The benefits consist of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of heat distribution and loss, improving comfort in exposure to high temperatures and preventing or hindering the appearance of thermal overload".

Health effects of heat exposure

Dehydration and loss of electrolytes

When we are continuously exposed to heat, the body begins to lose water and electrolytes through sweat. For this, the best indicator of dehydration is not thirst, but muscle cramps and gastrointestinal problems.

Heat syncope

Heat syncope can produce loss of consciousness or fainting. In general, it is due to the lack of acclimatization.

Heat exhaustion

The main cause is dehydration and is usually observed through the loss of work capacity, motor skills become slow, fatigue, nausea, etc.


The conditions have caused that the thermoregulation is not enough to fight the heat. The body has launched most of its defenses to fight hyperthermia but it is not enough. The internal temperature rises above 40.5 degrees, the skin heats and dries because there is no more sweating. Medical assistance and hospitalization is required. The consequences can be maintained for several days.

Final reflection

Undoubtedly, summer is a time to enjoy the beach and outdoor activities, but we must exercise caution. Above all, when exercises or work are carried out under high temperatures for a long time. Protect yourself in the hours of maximum temperature and be properly hydrated, it will be essential to fight against thermal stress.


Monroy, E. and Luna, Pablo. (2011). Thermal stress and thermal overload: risk assessment (I). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.