By John McElligott, MD
They say July 2012 was the hottest July since they started keeping records. We aren’t sure where 2013 will be, but no two ways about it – the heat creates numerous risks for truck drivers.
Last year I passed out at a loading dock in Florida during July and the ER mentioned heat syncope. I recall reading in your column in Land Line about heat syncope. Can you tell me if I had a heat stroke? Should I worry about this happening again?
Heat syncope is when you overheat and faint. It may be heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Both can cause blacking out (syncope). There are a number of heat stress conditions, including heat syncope, exhaustion, stroke, even rash.
Heat exhaustion or stroke – that’s the big question. You can tell the difference by paying attention to some simple details. Was your skin red hot and dry? Or was it sweaty and cool? The former is heat stroke – when you quit sweating. The latter is heat exhaustion – when you sweat excessively. Whichever one it was, you need to replace your fluids and electrolytes immediately.
Once you have either condition, you are more prone to having it again. Most folks need at least 2-3 liters of water a day to remain in equilibrium. On a hot day you may need more. Make this important note to self: Don’t underestimate the sun. LL
Two common types of heat stress, how to know the difference, what to do
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related disorder. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.
Heat stroke symptoms
• Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
• Throbbing headache
• High body temperature
• Slurred speech
What to do: If you think you are having a heat stroke, get help. If you are first on the scene for a fellow trucker, call 911. Move the driver to a cooler or shadier area, and try to cool him/her down with water.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Workers most prone to heat exhaustion are those who are elderly, those who have high blood pressure, and those working in a hot environment.
Heat exhaustion symptoms
• Heavy sweating
• Extreme weakness or fatigue
• Dizziness, confusion
• Clammy, moist skin
• Pale or flushed complexion
• Muscle cramps
• Slightly elevated body temperature
• Fast and shallow breathing
What to do: If you are suffering from heat exhaustion, get to an air-conditioned area, drink plenty of water (or cool, nonalcoholic beverage). If you can, take a cool shower or sponge yourself off. If you are helping another trucker or industry worker, follow the same routine.
Source: Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
John McElligott is an MD, Fellow of the American College of Physicians, and medical director of the St. Christopher Trucker Development and Relief Fund. Jeff Heinrich, who serves as the column's medical editor, has a Doctor of Education degree and is Physician Assistant Certified.
This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Land Line Magazine or its publisher. Please remember everyone's health situation is different. If you have questions regarding medical issues, consult your personal physician.