Avoiding heatstroke in the Sahara
August 7, 2015Amy Trumpeter
Health is an absolute priority when travelling. If your health isn’t ok, nothing else will be. If you are travelling to the Sahara Desert, you will be at risk of heatstroke.
This summer, I spent some time in Ouarzazate at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains and the gateway to the Sahara desert. I have also spent 6 weeks doing desert and oasis trekking in the Southern Oasis and Western Sahara.
I met a woman in Marrakesh airport, whom told me that her partner was a Berber, living in Ouarzazate, Morocco. She proceeded to tell me how ill her sons (5 and 12 years old) were in Ouarzazare, because they drank the water. The symptoms she described included dizziness and hallucinations. No, I don’t think that was the water – dodgy water or food would make you throw up, but not hallucinate. I firmly believe that her sons were suffering from undiagnosed heat exhaustion or even heatstroke, which could have been extremely dangerous.
A person will suffer from heat exhaustion initially, where they body temperature rises to 37-40 degrees C. Water and salt levels in the body begin to drop causing dizziness, fainting and nausea.
If not treated at this point, heat exhaustion will develop into full blown heatstroke, which is much more serious. Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature rises above 40 degrees C. Although 90% of people will survive with treatment, heatstroke can be fatal.
Symptoms of Heatstroke include…
- Rapid Heartbeat
- Muscle Cramps
- Weeing infrequently
- Dark urine
- Feeling constantly thirsty
- Tasting salt on your lips
- Hallucinations/altered mental state
- Loss of consciousness or fitting (extreme heatstroke)
When we were camping in the desert, two people were diagnosed with heatstroke. I was close to heat exhaustion, but my prescription of a litre of water an hour did the trick! Luckily, we had a doctor on the expedition with us to ensure that we were healthy.
Tips for avoiding Heatstroke or Heat Exhaustion in the Sahara
- Drink water, even when you don’t need it.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Wear a head scarf or ‘shesh’ to protect your head from the sun.
- Wear lose light fitting clothes.
- Avoid going out or trekking in the heat of the day (between 11am and 3pm).
- Stay in the shade when possible.
- Use a damp cloth to keep your head or the back of your neck cool.
- Wear a high factor sunscreen.
- Take a cool shower regularly.
If you are trekking or camping in the Sahara Desert, please take these cautionary measures, even if you feel ok. Prevention is much better than becoming ill and needing treatment.
Remember that heatstroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect it and do not see any improvements in the condition after half an hour of drinking and keeping cool, phone for an ambulance or medical assistance immediately.