The revelation that cricketers, including England captain Joe Root, were affected by heat stress during the record temperatures experienced during the Ashes series is a timely reminder to be mindful of Australia’s number one natural killer this summer.
“Records going back 150 years show that heat stress accounts for the deaths of more Australians than floods, cyclones, bushfires and storms combined,” said Karen Barlow, Senior Flight Nurse at the RFDS SE.
“If it can affect international cricketers with all their expert health and medical support then we’re all vulnerable.”
We can counter heat stress by recognizing the symptoms and what to do in an emergency.
Heat stress occurs once heat gain outstrips the body’s ability to cool down adequately. Early signs include muscle cramps in limbs or stomach, dark coloured or reduced urine flow, vomiting, headaches, dizziness and fainting. It is caused by a combination of:
- Physical activity – exercise or work.
- Environmental conditions such as high ambient temperature, humidity, air movement and radiant heat sources.
- Wearing heavy or short clothing that does not cover the skin and prevents the body’s natural cooling system from functioning properly. Lightweight long-sleeved shirts and long trousers are recommended.
- An inability of the body’s natural cooling system to function properly.
There are four categories of heat emergencies, which can all affect your health.
- Heat cramps and fatigue.
- Heat cramps and heat faint.
- Heat exhaustion.
Heat cramps and fatigue are the first signs of a heat emergency with muscle pain or tightness being common symptoms. Get the person to a cool place and give them water.
Heat faint is caused by a drop in blood pressure when body fluids shift to the skin in an effort to cool the body. Getting the victim into a shade, giving them water and elevating their legs will help recovery.
Rapid heart rate, difficulty in breathing, dizziness and impaired mental function are common signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Immediate medical treatment is required. The immediate reduction of core body temperature is vital because survival and avoiding internal organ damage is determined by the length of time the victim has been experiencing extreme heat stress. This can be done by:
- Getting the person to a cool area and laying them down.
- Removing their outer clothing to release body heat.
- Applying cool water or ice or to the skin and main arteries under the arms, on the neck and groin. However, be careful not to cool them down too quickly as that can also have an adverse effect.
- Getting them to drink water if they are fully conscious.
“The RFDS SE also recommends other common-sense measures such as avoiding exercise or outdoor activity during very hot conditions and carrying plenty of water,” said Karen.
“In an emergency dial 000 and be prepared to give your location. If you own a smartphone download the ‘Emergency +’ app which will indicate your longitude and latitude and assist emergency services, including the RFDS, to find you. If you don’t have a smartphone, keep an eye on the crossroads as you travel and mark your journey on a map. If travelling in the Outback be aware that there’s no mobile coverage in some remote areas and to make a satellite phone part of your travel pack.”
(Source: Royal Flying Doctor Service)