Back behind the wheel: It’s getting hot in here: Preventing heat illness

by Dr. Christopher Singh

862;This month I have decided to talk about heat illness due to the fact that we have been experiencing record breaking temperatures this summer. I know most of you spend the majority of your day in your air conditioned truck, however there are some of you such as flatbedders who spend a considerable amount of time outside your truck tarping, strapping or chaining loads. Just like your trucks, your body can overheat in extreme conditions.

Heat illness is a broad term that encompasses several conditions, ranging from mild heat cramps to life threatening heat stoke. The three main conditions are heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. All of these conditions occur as our core temperature increases and we become overheated, dehydrated, and hyponatremic (low salt). Although the exact cause of heat illness is not known, some researchers suggest that it is due to a failure in our body’s thermal regulation system.

One of the first signs of heat illness are heat cramps which usually involve muscle cramping that occurs during or after intense or prolonged exercise in extreme heat conditions. The most common location for these cramps are in the lower legs such as the calf muscles or feet. The most likely causes of this condition include lack of acclimatization to the heat, low sodium (salt), and dehydration. Treatment is quite simple involving rest, cooling, massage and hydration. Fluids should be taken by mouth and can consist of any cool liquids. Sport drinks such as Gatorade are beneficial in this situation as they help replenish electrolyte levels.

If mild overheating is not treated in a timely fashion, it may progress to a more severe condition called heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is a complex of symptoms that include heavy sweating, paleness, fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps and occasionally flu-like symptoms. The victim’s pulse rate will commonly be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. In most cases, the core body temperature is below 103 degrees F. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.

It is vital that this condition be recognized and treated accordingly as it can quickly progress to a life threatening condition called heat stroke. People experiencing any of these symptoms should immediately stop any physical activity and rest, cool off and hydrate.

The most severe form of heat illness is heat stroke. What separates heat exhaustion from heat stroke is that people suffering from the latter have a significant change in mental status. These people are usually confused, disorientated or agitated. Severe forms of heat stroke can lead to coma or seizures. This condition is usually seen in people with body temperatures greater than 105 degrees F.

As you may have guessed, this is a medical emergency and needs to be treated with rapid cooling under close supervision. These people will commonly need intravenous fluid.

Like I always say, prevention is the best treatment. It is recommended you try to avoid strenuous physical activity in extreme heat conditions. To add to this, maintaining adequate hydration is essential. During outdoor activities, such as chaining your loads, take frequent drink breaks and mist yourself with a spray bottle to avoid becoming overheated. Water and sports drinks are the drinks of choice; avoid tea, coffee, soda and alcohol as these can lead to dehydration. In addition, wear lightweight, tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing in light colours. Finally, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses and using an umbrella whenever possible.

Heat exhaustion is a real concern for truck drivers and should not be ignored. If you follow some of the simple prevention tips in this article it will greatly reduce your chances of suffering from heat illness. Until next month, stay cool and drive safely.

– Dr. Christopher Singh, B. Kin., D.C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 888-252-7327, or email

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