Tips for preventing heatstroke on the road

The heat is on
by Raymond Figuerres | Apr 11, 2020
PHOTO: Dinzo Tabamo

Nobody needs to tell you it’s summer time. Everyone feels the heat. With that, there’s a constant danger this season on top of everything we have to worry about: heatstroke.

heatstroke is your body overheating from heat or sun exposure, too much physical exertion, or both. It’s like your car engine overheating, because the cooling system cannot cope.

Your body has a natural way of regulating heat, like your vehicle has its radiator, or in the case or motorcycles, oil coolers or fins on the cylinder for air-cooling. When it’s getting too hot your skin produces sweat so it can absorb the heat, and as it evaporates it cools the skin . But if you sweat too much, you’ll get dehydrated and that’s the start of a slippery slope leading to a deadly condition called heatstroke.

The most vulnerable are those commuting on their motorbikes. Those inside a car or bus with functional air-conditioning will be more comfortable and less at risk.

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What are the signs someone is having a heatstroke?

1) Elevated core temperature

That’s the body temperature taken with an infrared ear probe or a rectal thermometer. Skin temperature is not the same as core temperature and is not a reliable sign.

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2) Altered sensorium or mental state

It will start as a slow reaction time, then confusion and irritability. Slurred speech and delirium may also be a presentation.

3) Sweating

Excessive perspiration initially, then later on, lack of sweating as dehydration progresses.

4) Nausea and/or vomiting

This could happen once the brain starts swelling from the heat.

5) Skin flush

Skin appears red and feels very warm to touch.

6) Rapid breathing

The lungs attempt to compensate by drawing air to help the body cool down. If breathing in warm air, it’s actually doing worse.

7) Fast heart rate

The heart is also trying to compensate for the fluids lost and the increasing demand for blood from swollen organs. Less fluid inside the blood vessels means it has to pump faster to get the same amount of blood, or even more, to other organs that need it.

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8) Headache

The swelling brain has nowhere to go, it’s encased by the rigid skull, so it’s compressing itself.

First aid measures include taking the sufferer under the shade or inside an air-conditioned room, removing all excess clothing, and rapidly cooling them. A cold shower will be the fastest way. The next best way would be placing cold, wet towels over the head and neck, armpits and groin; this will quickly chill the large arteries present there. Heatstroke can be deadly if left untreated. Act swiftly and you can avoid a trip to the hospital.

How can you prevent heatstroke?

1) Schedule your trips ahead of time.

Time your journey during the cooler hours of the day, like early morning and late afternoon.

2) Keep yourself and your vehicle in top shape.

Ensure the A/C is functioning well and keep up with preventive maintenance schedules. Make sure you’re well-rested before a long road trip.

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3) Wear loose, comfortable clothes that can ventilate well.

Think Billy Eilish with mesh clothing.

4) If you have any medical condition and on certain medications, take extra precautions.

Even a healthy senior citizen will have a hard time adapting to hot weather. Intake of the following medications will make you more vulnerable: vasoconstrictors, beta blockers for high blood pressure, diuretics, antidepressants and antipsychotics. Children taking hyperactivity disorder medication will also be vulnerable.

5) Avoid alcohol or illegal stimulants.

This will make your response slower, and overactive, respectively. You’re either not compensating enough, or you exhaust yourself by compensating too much. Coffee is just enough stimulant, and it’s not illegal. But be aware that it can make you more energetic and active.

6) Avoid strenuous activities.

Playing sports by the beach is okay but allow time for rest to be able to recover. Better yet, postpone such exercises until the late afternoon when it’s relatively cooler. If you’re on a spirited bike ride, open all helmet vents, and plan for frequent rest stops indoors with aircon. Before heading back out, stuff your jacket and pant pockets with ice, or dampen your inner shirt with cold water. Your slide-proof mesh jacket and pants will feel cool as the ice melts, and the wet clothes are dried while riding.

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7) Use sunblock.

If your skin is sunburnt, it can’t function capably as a temperature regulator.

8) Never leave anyone in a parked car, even with the A/C on.

It’s incredible how much heat a car can soak up. For motorcyclists, keep moving; the gusts of air will provide ventilation for you and the engine. Sitting idly on top of a hot engine can dry you out in minutes.

9) Drink plenty of cold fluids.

The colder it is, the better. Keep a cooler with your favorite non-alcoholic beverages at the back seat, or in an insulated lunch bag if you’re commuting. A hydration backpack with lots of ice and water will help a rider ride longer and further.

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PHOTO: Dinzo Tabamo
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