Staying Safe in Hot Climate
Staying Safe in Hot Climate
Hot climate challenges a majority of the world population as the most populous regions of earth are prone to high temperatures for varying duration in any given year. The climate change and global warming have further compounded a common interest in issues faced by people. The outside temperatures can go up by more than 10 degrees Celsius beyond our body temperature (37 degrees C), and stay stuck high for days to weeks at a stretch. This puts a strain on our body systems which sometimes exceeds our capacities to cope.
According to available figures, ambient heat alone is responsible for hundreds of deaths and countless other instances of adverse heat related health events every year. It is ironic that such events are totally preventable but there is little awareness for the same especially among the most vulnerable masses. If the message could be conveyed to the potential sufferers, it would result in a considerable saving of resources and discomfort.
Nature has endowed our bodies with remarkable mechanisms to cope with situations arising out of exposure to high temperature but sometimes it gets overwhelming to meet the challenge. In this communication, we will talk about communities at a greater risk, the way heat impacts us, and how one can prevent adverse health impacts.
At Risk Populations
· Infants and young children (especially those who are under 2 years)
· The elderly (especially those who are 65+)
· Outdoor workers
· Persons having limited access to drinking water
· The undernourished and the obese
· Persons having thyroid disease
· People exposed to high humidity along with heat
· Travelers from colder places
· Individuals with a low body resistance (drugs, chemotherapy, etc.)
Impact of Heat on Our Skin and Body Systems
We are designed to combat heat with a combination of mechanisms, but such capability is finite. Beyond a certain point that varies from one person to another, we are prone to health damaging effects which would be recoverable initially but run the risk of progression to major health risks and even death.
Effects of Heat on Body Systems
Sweating or perspiration is our first line cooling mechanism that functions by consuming body heat needed to cause sweat evaporation, thereby lowering temperature of the body
Racing Pulse and Low Blood Pressure
With further rise of temperature, the heart pumps faster to rush more blood for cooling. At the same time, the blood pressure goes down due to a drop in blood volume caused by loss of water due to sweating and increase in diameter of blood vessels
Dehydration, Confusion & and Fainting
When the body is unable to produce more sweat in response to exposure to heat for extended periods, it shows up in other systems. One of the first systems to be thus affected is the brain and the nervous system. The victim has a difficulty in concentrating and might even show fainting. There is a dry tongue, increased thirst, low urine output along with dizziness
Heat exhaustion is a combination of excessive sweating, with pale appearance of skin. There is a rise of body temperature signifying that the person is no longer able to withstand the heat and his or her body’s cooling mechanisms are unable to cope with the demand
Heat Stroke is more severe form of heat exhaustion. It manifests as high fever, extremely dry skin due to collapse of sweating and cooling mechanisms, confusion , nausea, raised pulse rate, and might result in seizures or convulsions due to a severe impact on the nervous system. It is a dangerous situation requiring immediate medical attention because this can result in death of the victim.
There are some direct effects of heat on the skin that deserve mention here. The most common ones are a heat rash or prickly heat (due to varying degrees of blockage related to sweat glands), sunburn (due to sun rays), and swelling of feet.
Prevention &Coping Strategies
Sweating leads to loss of water and salts from our bodies. These deficiencies can be easily made up. Oral route should be preferred and adequate compensation be provided as soon as possible. Specially formulated solutions containing multiple ingredients including salt and sugar known as Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), are readily available and are a great help in recovery. Homemade sugar and salt solutions may be used as an alternative to ORS.
Racing Pulse and Low Blood Pressure are tackled by making the patient lie down in a cool resting place and providing fluids and salts either as ORS or through alternate routes.
Dehydration, Confusion & and Fainting manifest when excessive sweating leads to deficiency of fluids in the body and other systems start getting affected. Such a patient feels thirsty, has low urine output and may show deterioration of brain function manifesting as symptoms of confusion and fainting.
Heat exhaustion is a condition when the body is close to exhaustion of its capability to cool itself enough for proper functioning. The victim of heat stroke shows pale and clammy skin with fever, weakness, and signs of light headedness. This can be controlled by providing a cool resting place to the affected person along with administration of fluids and electrolytes. This condition runs the risk of progression to heat stroke.
Heat Stroke is a combination of most of the features of heat stroke along with a high temperature, usually in the range of 104 degrees F. The victim has nausea, and seizures may follow. This condition needs all measures as outlined for heat exhaustion with raising of legs, and use of ice packs.
Direct effects of heat on skin like heat rash can be controlled by frequent baths or sponging, light and absorbent clothing, and ventilation. Sunburn is controlled by avoidance of further exposure and application of soothing creams, sunscreens, and appropriate clothing.
Swelling of feet can be resolved by rehydration, rest and rising of affected limbs.
Heat Protection Measures
· Always choose an appropriate timing for your activities so as to minimize the risk of exposure. This includes all activities including work, travel, leisure and exercise
· Heat increases pollution and you should consider this in advance as you plan your day
· Wear cotton garments of light colors that would prevent heat affecting absorption while ensuring ample ventilation
· Consume water/fluids frequently, even if you are not that much thirsty
· Have frequent baths/sponging
· Avoid using talcum powders (they run the risk of blocking sweat duct pores)
· Avoid humid places
· Avoid caffeinated drinks
· Do not cook in the same room where you work or rest
· Check on your loved ones frequently, especially if they are living alone or belong to any of the at risk categories listed above
· If you are vulnerable, do not stay alone or unattended
· Prefer to stay in an air conditioned environment, as far as possible
· If you need to exercise, take extra precautions like choosing proper time for the workout, using slow warming up, having frequent breaks, using an air conditioned place, consuming water frequently, wearing light clothing, and always staying under supervision
· Keep a watch on those around you and help any victim of heat impacts
· Please remember that practically everyone, irrespective of gender, can stay safe in heat!
You are permitted to share, distribute, print, or reproduce this article for private use. Please use proper citation of the source for any of such purposes.
The article is a part of our endeavor to serve fellow human beings to provide authentic and up to date health education, enhance awareness of health conditions, and to minimize their dependence on healthcare
Dr Vinay Kumar
MD, DVD, MD, DHHM, MPH
Sr Consultant Dermatologist
Adiva & Jaipur Golden Hospitals, New Delhi
Dr Mohan Lal Kalra
Sr Consultant, Internal Medicine
Max Multi Speciality Centre, Panchsheel Park
(More articles available on the website)
Suggestions, Queries, and Comments are welcome