Hyperthermia or as it is more commonly known, heat stroke, can be a common sight on the hiking trail especially when hiking during the hotter summer months. Knowing how to prevent, spot and treat this dangerous condition is important to maintain your safety while hiking and ensure everyone gets home safely. In this guide we will walk you through an overview of what hyperthermia is and how best to deal with it along with a range of other issues surrounding the same condition. Making well-structured plans for dealing with hyperthermia is important no matter where you are hiking and we hope that after reading this you should feel better informed on how to minimise the risks and take action when necessary.
What is hyperthermia?
Put simply, hyperthermia occurs when the body’s heat regulating mechanisms do not work effectively and is typically caused by prolonged exposure to hot and humid weather which intern causes a spike in body temperature and at its worst death.
Common symptoms of hyperthermia are:
Low Blood Pressure
Mussel Stiffness and Spasms
Nausea or Vomiting
Fast or Shallow Breathing
What are the risks?
Hyperthermia poses many risked to the health and safety of people while hiking not only through the risk of death from prolonged exposure but from the many side effects that this condition can cause such as Headaches, Fainting, Vomiting, Cramping, Mussel Stiffness and many more listed above. These symptoms have even larger effects to your safety while hiking than if experiencing them at home due to the environment of the bush that you often find yourself in while hiking. Mussel stiffness and cramping can be some of the last things you would want to experience out in the bush because it can significantly reduce your ability to hike safely and lead to further complications from avoiding treatment which at its worst can include death. For people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions, blood pressure or circulations problems hyperthermia can have even bigger effects on your health and cause complications with these underlying issues.
How do I Prevent it?
Now we have discussed what hyperthermia is and what some of the possible risks can be while out on the trail, we need to talk about how to prevent it from happening. The key with hyperthermia prevention is keeping body temperature down and making sure you are well hydrated, some of the best ways to do this are:
Taking regular drinking breaks to maintain good hydration and counteract sweat loss caused by humidity and walking.
Increase your intake of fluids that contain electrolytes (can be added to water through tablets)
Avoiding extended direct exposure to the by walking in shaded areas and wearing broad-brimmed hats.
Wear cool breathable clothing that stops the body from overheating and unnecessarily rising body temperature.
Take regular rests in shaded areas to allow the body to cool down and avoid overheating.
Avoid hiking on days of extreme heat when possible to minimise the risk of exposure to effects of the sun.
The above list are great ways to prevent someone from getting hyperthermia; another important thing to remember is that hyperthermia is most likely to occur during the summer months due to the higher sun exposure and hotter temperatures. Making sure you are prepared during these months is even more important and having action plans for conditions such as these is a must to make sure everyone stays safe out on the trail.
How do I spot it?
Identifying hyperthermia while still in its early stages can significantly lower the risk of serious complications but knowing what to look for is often not known by many and symptoms are often overlooked or attributed to other conditions. To find common signs of hyperthermia look above at our area where we explained what hyperthermia is, an important thing to note is that a body temperature of 40°C (104°F) or above is considered to be an extreme case and is typically a medial emergency. Watching someone’s body temperature is important and that is why carrying a thermometer can be very helpful.
How do I treat it?
Keep out of the heat, when working with someone who is experiencing hyperthermia, try to move them into a cool shaded place which can help remove some of the direct heat stresses that can worsen hyperthermia.
Slow things down, stopping any physical activity can allow the body to start to recover and can be further aided by laying the patient down and allowing them time cool down.
Keep Drinking, it's important that even when treating someone for hyperthermia you make sure to regularly hydrate the patient, taking drinks with added electrolytes is also another supplement that will further aid hydration.
Remove Excess layers, removing excess layers is another simple way to assist in the cooling down of the patient, added layers can cause overheating and worsen the effects of hyperthermia.
Use cooling aids, other items that can help aid the cooling of someone’s body temperature is ice packs, air conditioning and other devices that help regulate cooler temperatures.
Reach out to emergency services, if someone has a body temperature above 40°C (104°F) then you should immediately seek assistance from emergency services and follow their guidance for further steps to take.
What further steps can be taken?
Some further steps that can be taken to be better prepared for an emergency such as hyperthermia is to do a provide first-aid course and an audit of your first aid-kit.
For the course you will most likely need to spend a weekend learning all the required knowledge to be able to provide first-aid and this will also include CPR training. Towards the end you will most likely need to complete a test which will make sure that you have absorbed the information from the course and know how to apply it.
When auditing your first-aid kit you will want to make sure you have everything you need to treat someone with first-aid such as a thermometer to tell how high someone’s body temperature has risen along with telling you how severe their case is and an ice pack to aid temperature regulation.
So you feel better informed about what hyperthermia is, how to prevent it, how to spot it and how to treat it. Remember that this article is only a guide and it is important to remember the best way to prepare yourself is to take a provide first aid-course so you better know how to deal with it and get hands on training from professionals.
Written by Josh Welch