Hot tips for travellers to beat the heat
Travelling into the northern hemisphere summer or to the tropics soon?
Escaping the southern winter may mean having to cope with heat that can be debilitating – even dangerous – for anyone, but especially for older people with chronic conditions and young children.
The 40 degrees-plus heat that has blanketed much of the US this month has killed at least 35 people in Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and other states, including children left in cars.
Even travelling from southern latitudes of Australia to the heat and humidity of the tropics of Asia, Africa or Latin America can take some getting used to.
An adult needs to drink about 3 litres of fluid a day in a hot climate; 5 litres or more if undertaking strenuous physical activity.
Heat can hit youngsters hard
Young children produce more body heat than older kids and adults. They also perspire less efficiently, the body’s main mechanism for getting rid of excess heat.
When humidity soars, head for the shade
As humidity rises, perspiration becomes less effective and your body retains more heat. Reconsider the need to be outdoors and look for a cool place to spend the hottest hours of the day.
Most heat-related problems are the result of dehydration, so it’s important to drink plenty of fluids – even before you feel thirsty. (You begin to feel thirsty when approximately one litre dehydrated.)
Non-alcoholic fluids produce perspiration to keep your body cool and your brain and other vital organs functioning normally. Always carry water with you and maintain a constant intake – up to 1 litre an hour if exercising or walking.
Passing light yellow urine several times a day is the best indicator of adequate hydration.
Take it easy, sport
Sports drinks replace sodium, chloride and other elements lost through perspiration and may be considered for older children and adults – especially after strenuous activity during hot weather. However, they can actually slow water absorption and should be consumed along with water – not instead of it. Dilute them with four parts water for younger children.
Dress for the heat
Lightweight, light-coloured, loose-fitting … Those should be your watchwords when it comes to dressing for heatwave conditions. Cotton ‘breathes’ better than most synthetic materials and absorbs perspiration, helping to cool your body.
Recognise the warning signs
During a heatwave, heat can cause a range of symptoms – muscle cramps, tiredness, nausea, vomiting - even an altered mental state. Once again, kids are more susceptible. In toddlers not yet speaking, irritability can be an early sign of heat stress. The first step is to lower the person’s temperature as quickly as possible by getting them to a cool space, such as an air-conditioned car. (See below for more on treatment)
Take time to acclimatise
It can take time to adjust to the higher temperatures in a hot, humid country – especially for kids and people who are overweight. Take it easy for a day or two until all members of the family are ready to tackle the holiday sightseeing schedule. Twenty minutes of light to moderate exercise in the cooler part of the day helps you to acclimatise, allowing you to gradually increase the length of time and intensity of exercise.
Never leave kids alone in a car
Everyone has heard the tragic stories of a mother or father leaving a young child in a car, yet every summer children die or are permanently injured. Even a minor distraction can turn ‘just a few minutes’ into, well, much longer.
Remember a car can heat up from 27o C to 49° C in just 15 minutes!
There are two stages to heat stress - heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion:The key to treating heat exhaustion is rehydration and rest. Start with sips of cool to cold water and gradually increase intake to 250mls every 15 minutes. Between 2 and 3 litres of fluid over 2-3 hours may be required to complete the rehydration process.
Heat stroke:The next stage of heat exhaustion is heat stroke. The signs are changes in the level of consciousness, irritability, hallucinations, and ataxia (unsteadiness in walking).
Heat stroke is a medical emergency. The person should be taken to the nearest medical facility without delay.
For more expert advice about coping with the heat, possible vaccinations and other travel health-related issues for your next overseas trip, please call Travelvax Australia’s advisory service on 1300 360 164 (free from landlines). You can also book a medical appointment at one of our 32 clinics around Australia.