A Heated Discussion

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A large bead of sweat slowly drips down the side of my forehead as a large group of eager learners stare back at me waiting for me to educate them on the importance of first aid. You might be thinking that this bead of sweat has a distinct connection to the pent-up nerves I may be feeling prior to delivering a seven-hour long course to a group of strangers. Well, you’re wrong. It has nothing to do with the nerves, in fact, speaking in front of a large group of people comes quite naturally to me and I find great joy in teaching others the importance of knowing how to potentially save someone’s life.

So, why was a large bead of sweat dripping down the side of my forehead? Yes, you guessed it, I was hot and dehydrated. It must have been about 38 degrees outside and there was a significant lack of ventilation inside this fairly small classroom in which I was sharing with about twenty other people. 

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Furthermore, the sweat became exacerbated when I asked my learners what they should do if they suspect someone is suffering from heat exhaustion and all I could hear were the birds chirping outside. 

With the Australian summer in full swing and temperatures soaring into the late 30s and early 40s, it is time we understood exactly what to look out for and how to treat the signs and symptoms of heat related illnesses.

According to The Better Health Channel of the Victorian State Government, 80% of heat stroke cases become fatal and can often be prevented. If we as a nation were more prepared and more aware of the signs and symptoms to look out for then majority of heat-related illnesses could be avoided.

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So, this is where I come in. As a fully qualified first aid trainer with a passion for health and well being, I am going to teach you exactly how to combat the heat this summer (and for all the summers to come).

Firstly, let me help you understand the difference between certain heat related illnesses and who is the most at risk when it comes to suffering these conditions. The most at-risk groups are individuals over the age of 65 (particularly those living at home alone or without air conditioning), babies and young children, pregnant and nursing mothers, people who are unwell and those who are on medications for mental illness. However, we must not forget that anyone can suffer from heat related illness at any stage in their life.

The two most common heat related illnesses we see are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. And quite often people tend to think they are the same thing.

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Heat exhaustion is a serious condition which can develop into heat stroke if the victim is not attended to quickly. Heat exhaustion occurs when excessive sweating in a hot environment reduces the casualty’s blood volume. Signs and symptoms may include paleness and sweating, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fainting.

Heat stroke however, can be potentially life threatening if the casualty does not receive immediate medical attention. Heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature rises above 40.5 °C and the body’s internal systems start to shut down. Many organs in the body suffer damage and the body temperature must be reduced quickly. Many people who suffer from heat stroke can see system including becoming delirious, falling into a coma or having a seizure. Additionally, some other signs and symptoms to look out for could be confusion, unconsciousness or an inability to walk or stand upright. A good way to distinguish between the two is that with heat stroke the individual may not be presenting with any signs of excess sweating and their mental state or ability to communicate properly is becoming progressively worse.

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Now you’re starting to sweat too right? Well, let me reassure you when I say that preventing any heat related condition is rather simple. So, you can wipe away that bead of sweat and take a deep breath.

Being prepared is my number one piece of advice. Checking the weather forecast the night before your day’s activities is imperative in ensuring you stay cool during those hot summer days. Packing clothing such as a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen as well as a water bottle are simple things you can do to keep yourself protected and cool from the sun’s rays. If you are planning outdoor activities then perhaps rethink your options and opt for something indoors where there is air conditioning and a reliable water source. Making sure you take regular breaks to drink water is extremely important. If you start to feel light headed or a mild headache coming on then stop your activity and rest. Listening to your body when you are hot is vital.

As I stand in the classroom with beads of sweat starting to incessantly stream down the side of my face, I say to the group without hesitation, “Does anyone else feel rather hot in here?”. Expecting everyone to reply with “Yes”, I was shocked to see an array of blank and confused faces looking back at me. The facial expression on my face that followed was that of complete surprise. Then all of a sudden one class member responds by saying “the air conditioner is on”. It was then that I realized I was suffering mild heat exhaustion. Not only was I confused, but I was sweating profusely whilst my learners seemed rather content in the temperature controlled room.

I started to try and recall in my mind when I last had a drink of water and I couldn’t recall. I could feel my heart rate starting to increase as the beating starting to pulsate into my ears and the back of my head. I politely excused myself from the room to fetch a glass of water and sit down, lucky enough to have a colleague there with me to take over the remainder of the session.

After an extended period of time sitting down, some reassurance from my colleague and a few glasses of water I felt significantly better. Its simple actions like these when you are feeling a bit off that could not only make you feel much better, but could prevent the situation from becoming worse. Who knows what might have happened if I had of had heat stroke or gone unconscious. Taking action early and listening to your body in the hot weather is extremely important.

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Australian culture is all about being outdoors and enjoying the sunshine in the summer. And this can still be appreciated as long as we take the appropriate steps to be prepared. We can still have barbecues outside or play cricket on the beach with friends and family, as long as we take simple steps to stay cool and hydrated throughout the day.

Written by Olivia - First Aid Educator, Australian Pacific Training Solutions 

Cameron Smith