50 Shades Of The Environmental Extremes Lab!

The Environmental Extremes Lab has invested in a new LED lighting system for our environmental chamber to enable our students to embark upon some innovative and fun research investigations around altering perception and how this might influence behavioural thermoregulation and exercise performance.

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Women Firefighters’ International Survey

A recently published paper written by Dr Emily Watkins in Women’s Health Issues has received significant media interest around the world. The study aimed to identify specific health and well-being concerns of women firefighters. The survey was developed in collaboration with firefighter networks, in the UK this was in conjunction with the Women in the Fire Service organisation. There was also collaboration with Anthony Walker (Australia), Eric Mol (Netherlands) and Sara Jahnke (USA). In total 840 women from 14 countries completed the survey, the countries were grouped together into geographical locations.

Key highlights from the paper specific to UK and Ireland women firefighters included:

  • Around 20% report a musculoskeletal injury that they believe was caused by their job, this is similar to the rates of injury previously reported in males.
  • Around 12% report depression or PTSD linked to their job, this is similar to that previously reported in emergency services.
  • 5% report fertility issues that they believe are caused by their job.
  • 26% have suffered some form of heat related injury.
  • 20% reported that they were peri/menopausal, with 24% of those suggesting that it impacts them at work. This was through a variety of ways but most commonly due to hot flushes.
  • 60% of ladies who were not yet peri/menopausal were worried about how it may affect them in the future. This is much higher than the % concerned from other countries.
  • Only 16% were confident they could do their job at the age of 60yrs, with key concerns being meeting fitness standards (specifically strength related), the physical demands of the job, injuries they had suffered, and the impact the menopause may have.
  • Only 18% were provided with strength and conditioning support/training. This was much lower than the 44% in the USA and Canada.
  • 43% of UK&I ladies would like more support/guidance with fitness and training, with suggestions being: specific plans, strength training, and age/sex specific training.
  • 66% had access to female specific PPE. This is greater than access in other countries. However there were still concerns about the fit and quality of the PPE. Only 25% of American and Canadian firefighters had access to female specific kit.
  • Other concerns were: risk of cancer, fertility issues, returning to work after pregnancy & impact of the job on breastfeeding.

Overall the paper indicates the need for further research and education surrounding the impacts of the menopause and issues surrounding fertility and maternal health. The study also highlights the need for appropriate PPE for female firefighters (as this may be linked to risk of injuries) and the desire within the service for further support with regards to strength/training programmes to help ensure career longevity.

 

Paper Reference and Link:

Emily Watkins, Anthony Walker, Eric Mol, Sara Jahnke & Alan Richardson (2019). Women Firefighters’ Health and Well-Being: An International Survey. Women’s Health Issueshttps://www.whijournal.com/article/S1049-3867(18)30561-9/fulltext 

 

Upcoming Research Study Investigating Exercise-Heat Sensitivity in Female Breast Cancer Survivors vs. Age-Matched Females

We are currently recruiting female participants who have been diagnosed with breast cancer alongside healthy females (as a control group), aged 40-64 years, to take part in a research study that examines their responses to exercise in a hot environment. The study involves four visits with the exercise protocol requiring participants to walk on a treadmill in our environmental chamber. The research will take place at the Eastbourne Campus of the University of Brighton.

Rebecca Relf is conducting this research as part of her PhD studies, with Chanel Coppard, an MSc Applied Exercise Physiology student and Berenice Grimshaw, a BSc Sport and Exercise Science student, supporting her. The research team would like to speak to you if you are interested in getting involved and help improve our understanding of heat sensitivity in breast cancer survivors. Please see the recruitment poster below for details.

Environmental Extremes Lab Represented at PPTR 2018 Conference

Recently, marked the 7th International Conference on the Physiology and Pharmacology of Temperature Regulation (PPTR), held in the beautiful city of Split, Croatia. The Conference was held over the 7th to 12th October and consisted of oral and poster presentations, symposia and workshops – all with an environmental extremes focus. This year’s meeting had 170 presentations of which nearly half were presented by young investigators.

Four of our University of Brighton research students (Gregor Eichhorn, Kirsty Waldock, Rebecca Relf and Emily Watkins) and members of the EEL group flew to Croatia to attend the conference. While it is important for a PhD student to present their own work before a scientific community to disseminate their findings, it can also be very useful to exchange ideas for future research and collaborations and improve communication skills and knowledge.

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Elderly people during heatwaves

The Problem

The Met Office announced a level 3 heatwave warning earlier this week and today could be the hottest day on record. The EEL team discuss the increasing trend in hot summers here in the UK and provide readers with research informed advice on how to keep the elderly free of heat illness. The three previous summers have been the warmest on record, with 2018 expected to be the hottest ever recorded. Researchers predict that this global trend will see further increases in the frequency and the severity of heatwaves, like that experienced throughout Europe in 2003, where the UK had 2000 excess deaths related to the heat. The majority of heat-related deaths during heatwaves are within the elderly population, with up to 92% occurring in the over 65’s.

Part of the reason for the disproportionate amount of deaths in the elderly is due to an ageing society. Between 1951-2011 there was an 80% increase in the number of people aged over 65 years. By 2040 it is predicted that 1 in 7 people will be 75 years old or older.

Secondly, aging negatively changes the way the body maintains heat balance. Healthy older individuals rely on a much larger percentage of their heart rate reserve to increase stroke volume in order to redistribute blood flow to the skin and thereby dissipate internal heat. Therefore, the burden placed on the heart is greater for the elderly than young adults. Leading to most deaths during heatwaves occurring due to cardiovascular complications in the elderly population. This scenario is further exacerbated in older populations with underlying co-morbidities.

Older adults may further intensify the problem as they may not feel thirsty until they are dehydrated. Avoiding levels of dehydration can be seen as avoiding reductions in blood volume. Decreased blood volumes lead to low blood pressure which then results in individuals passing out and injuring themselves. Furthermore, some medications further contribute to dehydration.

Research from our lab has also shown that older individuals demonstrate a reduced perception of heat. This can potentially lead to a delayed behavioral response (i.e. taking of layers of clothing or seeking shade) and increase the risk of heat related illness.

 Be aware of the warning signs of heat illness

  • Profuse sweating, heat rashes and being thirsty alongside feeling weak are the first signs to look out for. In some cases were exertion is high you may experience muscle cramps.

  • Headaches, dizziness and feelings of nausea or actual sickness followed by severe fatigue can then develop, where the skin may be pale and cool to touch.

  • When heat stroke develops, people will look flushed, often have hot and dry skin as dehydration stops sweating and will appear confused.

  • Stopping sweating will cause your body temperature to become very high very quickly and with a more confused state over time, this indicates heat stroke has set in and medical attention is required urgently (Call 999).

The solution

Advice on how to enjoy the weather safely:

There are 6 key areas to consider when maintaining heat-related health.

  • Hydration: drink refrigerated water/juice regularly throughout the day even if you do not feel thirsty, eat foods high in water content, fruit and salads. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated and sugary drinks.
  • Indoor environment: the use of electric fans, keep windows open if safe to do so, keep curtains shut, It may be cooler outdoors in the shade than indoors. Take cool showers/baths or splash yourself with cool water
  • Outdoor environment: seek shade and cooler refuges when out and about. Try to avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm.
  • Clothing and protection: light and loose fitting clothes that allows for sweat evaporation. Apply sun screen and wear a hat when going outside in the heat.
  • Medication: have a medication check with your G.P. as many medication will impact thermoregulation and may need to be adjusted during periods of hot weather
  • Activity: keep activities of daily living to cooler parts of the day i.e. early morning late evening
  • Thermal Comfort: remember people above the age of ≥55 may not feel uncomfortable or dehydrated during periods of hot weather, so try to put in place the above strategies because the body could still be at risk of developing heat illness.

If you think someone might be suffering from a heat illness call NHS 111 for advice.

If you suspect heat stroke then cool patient immediately and seek urgent medical attention CALL 999

For further advice look up the public health England’s beat the heat campaign (click here).

Do Breast Cancer Survivors Respond Differently in the Heat Compared to Healthy Females?

Rebecca Relf, a Technical Instructor and PhD Student within our Environmental Extremes Lab is investigating the ‘physiological differences in females that have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer compared to those females who have not’.

Why Study Cancer & Environmental Extremes?

Cancer is one of the leading causes of mortality in the UK and worldwide, with approximately 2 million individuals living with cancer in the UK, and 1 in 8 females facing a diagnosis of breast cancer in their lifetime (Eisemann et al, 2013). With increasing advancements in technology and treatment, the survival rate is currently 78% in the UK and rising (Cancer Research UK, 2017).

However, the literature indicates that following the treatment of breast cancer, survivors are left with a multitude of varying side effects which differ in intensity for each person. The most common side effects have been reported as;

  • Risk of recurrent cancer
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Persistent Fatigue
  • Decreased immune function
  • Depression and reduced quality of life

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Dr Alan Richardson Secures Funding to Support UK Firefighters

Congratulations to Dr Alan Richardson and the occupational team (Associate Professor Peter Watt, Dr. Mark Hayes and Emily Watkins) of the Environmental Extremes Lab (EEL) who recently secured funding to support their research investigating firefighter and instructor health.

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A PhD Student’s Pathway to Research Impact – Heatwaves in the Elderly

The research excellence framework (REF) provides funding to UK universities with the purpose to support the continuation of world-class research. The amount of funding received by a university is assessed against three main criteria: the quality of research outputs; the research impact beyond academia; and the environment that supports research (REF, 2018). A priority from the outset of my PhD (Heat waves in the elderly and the impact of acute and chronic heat alleviating strategies on health) was to achieve impact beyond academia. My aim was to provide evidence-based advice that the elderly could use to improve their health and wellbeing during periods of hot weather.

Kirsty Waldock (3rd year PhD student)

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Recruiting Individuals over 65 years for Hot Weather Research Study

We are currently recruiting participants who are over 65 years old to take part in a research study that is examining different ways to prepare for hot weather in the UK. Kirsty Waldock, Rebecca Relf and Gregor Eichhorn are conducting this research as part of their PhD studies and would like to speak to you if you are interested in getting involved. Please see the recruitment poster below for details.

This research fits into a broader research theme within the Environmental Extremes Laboratory of ‘heat waves and the elderly’ and what practical heat alleviating methods can be used to reduce the negative consequences that hot weather can have on health, particularly during exercise.