Motorcyclists and Dehydration

Don’t Let it Ruin Your Ride!

An international exploratory study concluded that not drinking enough water has the same effect as drink driving. The research shows the impact dehydration can have on our ability to control a vehicle, whether that’s a car, lorry or motorbike. To put the study into perspective, driver errors found were of a similar magnitude to those found in people with a blood alcohol content of 0.08%.

Understanding dehydration

Water makes up the largest component of the human body representing 45% to 70% of our body weight. For example, a 75 kg person would contain 45 litres of water, representing 60% of body weight. Any excessive change in the normal body water balance, such as fluid loss causing dehydration can be a serious outcome for the motorcyclist.

We lose body water daily through normal tasks such as breathing, sweating, urinating and some medications for example. A reduction of only 1% can start to impair our body’s normal temperature regulation system and dehydration will kick in. Your muscle strength and mental abilities will be diminished with 2% dehydration, you will be thirsty at 3% dehydration, and at 4% dehydration, you will no longer be thirsty and will be facing a real life-threatening emergency.

Thirst is a poor indicator of dehydration

During heat exposure, body water is primarily lost as sweat. Individuals can sweat anywhere between 800 mL to 1.4 litres per hour. People normally do not perceive thirst until a deficit of approximately 2% body weight loss has resulted from sweating. Thus, thirst provides a poor indicator of body water needs during rest or physical activity. When individuals are encouraged to drink fluids frequently during heat exposure, the rate at which we can replace the fluids by mouth is limited by the rate at which fluids can be absorbed from the stomach to the intestines (where the absorption process starts to take place).

Fluids can only empty from the stomach at a maximum rate of approximately 1 to 1.2 litres per hour.

The important message is that once dehydration occurs, it becomes more challenging to rehydrate adequately by drinking water.

The key to preventing dehydration for the motorcyclist is to begin consuming water before going on a ride and to maintain hydration by taking frequent drinks of water during the ride.

Million Dollar Bogan –

Just remember that you can sweat more per hour on a hot day than what your body is capable of absorbing. That is why it is critical to maintain your water intake before, during and after the ride.

FIRST AID Management

FIRST AID Management
Keep an eye out for common signs (something you see) and symptoms (something you hear or the patient tells you) of dehydration. Also keep in mind that each person may experience symptoms differently but common issues include;

  • Less frequent urination & dark in colour
  • Thirst (late symptom of dehydration)
  • Fatigue & light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth
  • Frontal headache

DRINK, don’t sip

Cool the individual down and get them to drink as much water as possible (may include electrolytes). Be aware that large amounts of oral fluids may increase bloating, nausea, and vomiting due to the delays in stomach to intestine absorption rate. In this case, and if the individual is unable to keep any water down, they require urgent medical attention and possible intravenous (I.V) fluid replacement. Please remember that the volume of oral fluids ingested typically must at least equal the volume of fluid lost.

Follow your first aid procedure for anyone who may have an altered level of consciousness [D.R.S.A.B.C.D] and always make sure that they can swallow before you provide anything for them to eat or drink. They must be able to protect their own airway.

The use of electrolytes

In Australia and New Zealand, it is the Australian Resuscitation Council that produces Guidelines to meet objectives in fostering uniformity and simplicity in resuscitation techniques and terminology. These guidelines are produced after consideration of all available scientific and published material and are only issued after acceptance by all member organisations. These Guidelines are often referred to as the ANZCOR Guidelines, or the Australian and New Zealand Committee on Resuscitation guidelines. Guideline 9.3.4 states;

ANZCOR suggest a 3-8% carbohydrate electrolyte fluid [any commercially available “sports drink”] for the treatment of exertion related dehydration. If carbohydrate electrolyte fluid is unavailable, water is an acceptable alternative.

Can we drink too much water?

The consequence of over hydration (drinking too much water) can indeed throw off the balance of all the normal functions of the body. Exertional (dilution) hyponatremia is typically seen in individuals during prolonged activity in hot environments and consuming water (>1 L/hr) that exceeds sweat rate and a failure to replace sodium loss in sweat.

Diagnosing or recognising hyponatremia is complicated because symptoms for dilutional hyponatremia and dehydration are almost exactly the same but their treatments are vastly different. Under normal circumstances, accidentally consuming too much water is exceptionally rare. Marathoners, triathletes, adventure riders, military personnel for example are the most at risk due to long bouts of exercise during which excessive amounts of fluid were consumed. Deaths from hyponatremia have occurred in Australia; however, the individuals were either participating in long bouts of exercise or undertaking heavy work duties in “extreme heat” and had access to large amounts of water.

Motorcyclists who may be at risk of hyponatremia are those that engage in organised events such as adventure or endurance riders or those participating in a Dakar rally or similar. 

Little can be done for hyponatremia outside the hospital setting as is the case with severe dehydration.

The signs and symptoms of hyponatremia and severe dehydration are exactly the same.

Remember to be aware of the dangers

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Rider Down® is the leading Fast Aid for the Motorcyclist course in Australia and is a two-time Australian Road Safety Award Finalist for a very good reason. Contact us to organise a course for your group.

1300 585 000

About the author
Founder and CEO, Janine Nicholas is a motorcyclist [BMW 1200 GS], paramedic and an internationally certified emergency medical service (EMS) provider and educator with experience in Australia, North America and the Middle East. With a career spanning well over 25 years’, she holds numerous instructor, instructor trainer and program development and coordinator qualifications including NAEMT, NAEMSE and Diploma of Training and Education. Prehospital Emergency Care qualifications include (but not limited to) Diploma of Paramedical Science, Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC), and Prehospital Trauma Life Support to name a few.

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