Summer is upon us and the most common complaint heard is that the heat and dust is difficult to tolerate. Summer is also the time that there is an increase in dehydration and heat exhaustion cases, and doctors usually recommend that people with underlying health conditions and low heat tolerance limit their time outdoors.
Prolonged exposure to heat leads to health complications, most felt by the young and the elderly as well as those who are pregnant or obese, who have low resistance to heat and those known to have respiratory illnesses or heart conditions. Laborers who are forced to work outdoors for long periods are also susceptible to heat stroke.
Discussing the many complications caused by heat exposure and the toll taken on the human body, Dr. Lingaiah Miryala, Internist at Al Nahil International Clinic of Shifa Al Jazeera Medical Group, said, “Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you have been exposed to high temperatures, and is often accompanied by dehydration. There are two types of heat exhaustion: water depletion - the signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headaches, and loss of consciousness, and salt depletion - signs are nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.”
He further added, “Although heat exhaustion is not as serious as heat stroke, it isn't something to be taken lightly. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs, and even cause death.” Hence, it is imperative that people recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion, which include confusion, dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration), dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headache, muscle or abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea, pale skin, profuse sweating and rapid heartbeat.
Speaking on the topic of dehydration caused by overexposure to heat, Dr. Miryala explained that the condition was the result of body fluid loss; especially when the loss of water exceeds the amount taken in. “With dehydration, more water is moving out of our cells and bodies than what we take in through drinking. When we lose too much water, our bodies may become out of balance or dehydrated. Severe dehydration can lead to death.”
Given the severity of the situation, Dr. Miryala recommended that people out in the sun be mindful of the temperature and take precautions. Some of his tips are to:
Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and a wide-brimmed hat.
Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more.
- Drink extra fluids. To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of water, fruit juice, or vegetable juice per day. As heat-related illness also can result from salt depletion, it is advised people substitute an electrolyte-rich sports drink for water during periods of extreme heat and humidity. Consult a doctor about the best types of fluid and how much you should be drinking.
- A general recommendation for those engaged in moderate to high-intensity exercise is to drink 500 to 600ml of fluid two to three hours before exercise, and consider adding another 240ml of water or sports drink right before exercise. During exercise, you should consume another 200 to 300ml of water every 20 minutes, even if you do not feel thirsty. Also, drink another 240ml within a half hour after exercise. Take additional precautions when exercising or working outdoors.
- Avoid fluids containing caffeine, because it can make you lose more fluids and worsen heat exhaustion. If you have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease, or are on a fluid-restricted diet, or have a problem with fluid retention, check with your doctor before increasing liquid intake.
Dr. Miryala also mentioned a few measures that will benefit people who are confined in their homes during power outages or breakdown of cooling appliances. These circumstances can often be risky to families as they are forced into sauna-like conditions. Dr. Miryala offers this suggestion, “A towel soaked in cold water is a great way to cool down. Apply it to your neck, wrists, and forehead for some relief during the hottest part of the day.”
This method would also benefit the fairer sex as they are less capable of standing the heat, according to Dr. Miryala, “Due to potential gender-related physiological and thermoregulatory differences, women are more frequently diagnosed as heat intolerant than men.”
Nevertheless, everyone should remain vigilant when outdoors during the peak hours of the summer season, and should take advantage of government measures like the fixed outdoor work schedule and the free access to water and ice, which is important to reduce instances of heat exhaustion and dehydration. “The government-sponsored measures are helpful to a great extent,” said Dr. Miryala “however, people should avoid very cold or chilled water and should ensure that the ice is made of purified water. Also, buying Oral Rehydration Sachets (ORS) can be very useful.”
Preparation is the key to survive the extremely hot summer weather, and people should also be ready to respond to emergencies, said Dr. Miryala. “For instance, if someone suddenly complained of exhaustion and fainted, the most effective response would be to move the person into an air conditioned environment, to help return the body temperatures to normal and break the heat exposure cycle; or lift the person into a shaded area to reduce their contact with the sun. Excess clothing should be removed and any tight clothing has to be loosened to allow for breathable space. Pour water over the affected person’s head, and apply ice packs or cool water to certain areas of the body, in addition to administering plenty of fluids.”
Dr. Miryala also advised that spray bottle or misters be used to spray lukewarm water on exposed skin surfaces, as a good method to help with the cooling via the evaporation process. However, he cautioned, that the skin should not be exposed to excessive cold, such as ice packs or ice water as “exposure to excessive cold can also cause shivering, which will increase the sufferer’s body temperature - the opposite effect you are trying to achieve,” warned the doctor. People should also call for help immediately to provide the best care to a heat stroke victim.
- Christina Pinto