Your Health
Summer heat creates health risks for truckers

By John McElligott, M.D.

The cab of your truck is probably pretty cool and comfy when you have the key on. The 2015 Land Line Reader Survey says 52 percent of respondents do not yet use an alternative to idling. So, while heat stress is a rare issue when the truck is running, there is clear danger for many drivers who are securing a load, inspecting a truck, or simply parked in a strict no-idle spot on a hot day.

Heat stress happens quickly. On a hot day, a driver can become heat sick and even acutely incapacitated in as little as 30 minutes if not careful. While the Centers for Disease Control tell people working in the heat to rest, drink, and find shade from the sun – a trucker on the clock can’t always do that. Heat does not “stop the clock.”

Heat is stressful to the fittest of drivers and extremely dangerous to those with poor physical stamina, weight issues, underlying medical issues like high blood pressure and medications like diuretics, which can make you dehydrated.

If you were going to do one thing to help you prevent heat sickness, at all levels, it’s to stay hydrated. A driver needs to get in a minimum of 2-3 liters – 4 cups is about a liter – every 24-hour period.

Heat exhaustion or stroke – that’s often the big question. You can tell the difference by paying attention to some simple details.

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
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Throbbing headache
  • High body temperature
  • Confusion/dizziness
  • 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.

Heat exhaustion symptoms

  • Heavy sweating
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness, confusion
  • Nausea
  • 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.

Heat syncope is when you overheat and faint. It may be heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Both can cause blacking out (syncope). 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? As I said above, 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. Make this important note to yourself: Don’t underestimate the sun. LL

John McElligott is an MD, Fellow of the American College of Physicians, and medical director of the St. Christopher Trucker Development and Relief Fund. 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.