Indexed on: 13 Oct '17Published on: 13 Oct '17Published in: Journal of Nursing Scholarship
Farmworkers working in hot and humid environments have an increased risk for heat-related illness (HRI) if their thermoregulatory capabilities are overwhelmed. The manifestation of heat-related symptoms can escalate into life-threatening events. Increasing ambient air temperatures resulting from climate change will only exacerbate HRI in vulnerable populations. We characterize HRI symptoms experienced by farmworkers in three Florida communities.A total of 198 farmworkers enrolled in 2015-2016 were asked to recall if they experienced seven HRI symptoms during the previous work week. Multivariable logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for the association between selected sociodemographic characteristics and reporting three or more symptoms. Latent class analysis was used to identify classes of symptoms representing the HRI severity range. We examined sociodemographic characteristics of the farmworkers across the latent classes.The mean age (±SD) of farmworkers was 38.0 (±8) years; the majority were female (60%) and Hispanic (86%). Most frequently reported symptoms were heavy sweating (66%), headache (58%), dizziness (32%), and muscle cramps (30%). Females had three times the odds of experiencing three or more symptoms (OR = 2.86, 95% CI 1.18-6.89). Symptoms fell into three latent classes, which included mild (heavy sweating; class probability = 54%), moderate (heavy sweating, headache, nausea, and dizziness; class probability = 24%), and severe (heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps; class probability = 22%).Farmworkers reported a high burden of HRI symptoms that appear to cluster in physiologic patterns. Unrecognized accumulation of symptoms can escalate into life-threatening situations if untreated. Our research can inform interventions to promote early recognition of HRI, on-site care, and appropriate occupational health policy. Administrative or engineering workplace controls may also reduce the manifestation of HRI.This study advances the current knowledge of HRI symptoms in farmworkers and moves beyond reporting individual symptoms by utilizing latent class analysis to identify how symptoms tend to co-occur together in this population. It acknowledges multiple symptoms occurring as a result of occupational heat exposure and highlights the importance of symptom recognition.