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It is heating up - how to avoid heat stroke in our hot Australian summers?

Friday 07 October 6:02 PM

Australia has the ideal climate for spending time outdoors and engaging in outdoor activities during the summer. However, nobody wants to end up being treated for heat exhaustion or heat stroke, two related health conditions that can have serious consequences if not treated early and effectively.

Both conditions result from a mild to extreme elevation in body temperature. Body temperature is usually controlled by sweating, which keeps the body cool through evaporation. However, when a person is seriously dehydrated, body temperature can rise rapidly because sweating can no longer effectively cool the body. High humidity, a feature of Australian summers, is another factor that can inhibit evaporation.

Heat exhaustion is likely when body temperature rises above 37°C but not above 40°C. Signs of heat exhaustion are elevated temperature, heavy sweating and dilated pupils. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, feeling faint or dizzy, headache, nausea or vomiting, and possible collapse.

To manage the condition of heat exhaustion, lie casualty down, remove excess clothing and loosen the remainder, sponge the skin with a moist cloth or washer, fan the casualty to cool by evaporation, and if the person is conscious, give them cool water to drink. If not correctly managed, the condition may progress to heat stroke, which is a more serious heat-related condition.

Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature rises above 40°C. Signs of heat stroke are dry skin (person has stopped sweating), rapid/shallow breathing, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and the person may appear confused, agitated and disoriented, and lapse into unconsciousness.

Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency, so if you suspect a person has heat stroke, immediately call emergency services for an ambulance. While you are waiting for the ambulance, place the casualty in a cool place (if available), remove excess clothing, and sponge the skin with a moist cloth or washer, or spray with a fine spray of cool water, while fanning continuously. Apply cold packs or wrapped ice to neck, groin and armpits.

Prevention is the key in managing the summer heat. Ensure you remain well hydrated by drinking plenty of water (avoid excessive tea, coffee and alcohol, which can increase dehydration). Avoid strenuous outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day. Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing made with ‘breathable’ fabrics that allow sweat to evaporate. Wear a large hat to shade your face and back of your neck. Seek out shady places. Take care of those who may be most at risk: the elderly; children under two; people with kidney, circulation or heart problems; insulin dependent diabetes sufferers.

Make sure you are prepared to respond in an emergency and ensure you first aid certificate is up to date. It is recommended that first aid training is updated every three years, and CPR training is updated annually.

 

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