Stay cool & drink water on Australia Day

January 24, 2015 | Food & nutrition, Lifestyle

Girl drinking waterA paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Policy has shown that there are more heat-related fatalities in Australia the day after Australia Day, than on any other day of the year.

The paper published in October last year analysed heat-related deaths in Australia between 1844 and 2010, and came to some interesting conclusions:

  • By far the most heat-related fatalities occurred on January 27, the day after Australia Day.
  • Since 1900 heat-related fatalities have been higher than the sum of fatalities from all other natural hazards examined.

It is interesting to see this significant spike the day after Australia Day. Given the Australian climate in late January, and the classic love of the outdoors, BBQ’s and alcohol, in some ways this is not surprising.

People at risk of heat-related illness, such as people over 65 years, diabetics, those with heart or lung disease disease, pregnant or nursing mothers, and young children, need to be very careful. Especially in outdoor social situations where it’s easy to get carried away with the fun and forget to hydrate, take breaks in the shade, and eat and drink responsibly.

Reduce Your Risk

So what can you do to reduce your risk? Here are a few tips:

  1. Stay well hydrated with plain water. Flavoured drinks, tea, coffee, and soft drinks, whilst they contain fluid, don’t really count here. Some have caffeine or related alkaloids like theophylline, which cause you to urinate more, countering some of their benefit. Plain water is the best. An average adult should drink a minimum of 2 litres of plain water per day, but in really hot weather, that can easily increase to 3 litres or more.
  2. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Not only is alcohol a diuretic (causing you to urinate more), the metabolism of alcohol uses water as well. And it can also effect your electrolyte balance. You don’t have to completely avoid alcohol, but be sensible, and between beverages break it up with a glass of water or fruit juice.
  3. Eat some fresh fruit, drink some fresh fruit juice. This puts back some of the sugars you’ll burn, and the water and electrolytes you’ll lose.
  4. Seek out shade. Collaborate with your friends or family and organise some sun-tents or even larger party shade shelters. Find sheltered spots under trees. And make sure everybody gets plenty of “shade-breaks” during the day.
  5. Make sure you don’t get sunburned. So cover up, wear a hat, and use sunscreen.
  6. Bring the hose! Great fun for the kids and even for the adults, the garden hose can be a lifesaver and help you cool down before you get seriously overheated.
  7. Keep an eye on your friends. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are insidious, and because confusion is one of the symptoms, it is difficult to recognise it in yourself. So watch your friends, make sure everybody has their water and shade, and intervene early if somebody is looking like they have the signs of heat exhaustion (see below). Get them to a cool spot with plenty of ventilation, give them plenty of water, and wet them down with cool water. And seek medical assistance if they don’t get better quickly or if their symptoms are very severe (e.g. fainting, severe confusion, inability to stand up).

Signs of Heat Exhaustion

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Excessive thirst
  • Muscle pain and cramping
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion or anxiety and agitation
  • Severe sweating, often with cold, clammy skin
  • Slowed or weakened heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Worsening of any existing medical condition

Image by Val Lawless / Stockvault

Copyright Ian Breakspear, 2014