We all enjoy the warm weather that comes with Summer. It’s the season of barbeques, beach days, and heat waves. But if we’re not careful, the warm weather can become deadly.
In the warmer months its easy to become dehydrated. In extremely hot weather, like during a heat wave, its even easier. When your body dehydrates or overheats it can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion or in the worst case heatstroke (also known as sunstroke). The worst of the three, heatstroke, is a serious condition that can cause irreparable damage to your body and if not treated immediately can even lead to death.
Heat Related Illnesses:
Heat rash is often the result of excessive sweating in hot or humid weather. It usually appears on the skin as small pimples or blisters. The most common areas in which heat rash occurs are areas of the body that where there is friction with clothes. This includes the neck, elbow, upper chest, creases in the groin and under the breasts.
While heat rash is not a serious condition, moving to a cooler and less humid environment to avoid further sweating can help to clear up the rash.
When your body doesn’t have enough water and fluids you become dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration include a loss of appetite, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, dark yellow urine, irritability, feeling tired, fainting, and becoming very thirsty.
Dehydration caused by heat exposure is very easy to manage, however if may also be a sign or symptom of other heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are discouraged as they can worsen and contribute to dehydration. The best way to manage dehydration is drinking lots of water.
Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms. They occur whilst, or after participating in a strenuous activity (such as work or exercise) in hot weather. These involuntary cramps tend to affect individuals who sweat more during strenuous activity, leading to a loss of salt and water in the body.
If you begin to suffer from heat cramps, its best to stop what you are doing immediately and rest in a cool place. Drinking water, massaging the areas affected, and having a cold shower or bath can help to relieve the pain caused by cramps and speed up the time it takes for you to recover.
Heat exhaustion is a severe reaction to the body losing extremely large amounts water and salt. It occurs when an individuals body temperature is within the range of 37-40 degrees celsius. When suffering from heat exhaustion symptoms can include: cramps, headaches, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, pale skin, profuse sweating, weak but rapid heart rate, fast shallow breathing, fainting and lethargy.
While you may only suffer from a few of the symptoms, it is important that you move to a cool place as soon as possible. Drinking plenty of cold water (take small sips), having a cold shower or bath, and using ice packs to reduce body temperature (placing them on armpits, groin, back of neck) can help to relieve the symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening.
If left untreated heat exhaustion can escalate to heatstroke.
Heatstroke is the most serious and life-threatening heat related illness. When body temperature has risen above 40 °C the body’s internal systems begin to shut down. Because of this, it is vital that treatment for Heatstroke and lowering the body temperature occur immediately.
The symptoms of heatstroke can include: all of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, aggressive or unusual behaviour, dry swollen tongue, excessively dry skin, disorientation, convulsions, intense thirst, poor coordination, slurred speech, delirium, loss of consciousness, and coma.
If you or someone you know is suffering from heatstroke, move them to a cool area and calling 000 for an ambulance. If they are still conscious, try and have them take small sips of cold water and try to bring down their body temperature. Gentle sprays of cold water, sponging them with cold water, and using ice packs under their armpits, at the back of their neck or groin to can help reduce their body temperature. Avoid giving them painkillers as they will not help and can even be harmful to their well being in this state.
Alternatively, if they’re unconscious lay them on their side and check they can breathe properly. If needed perform CPR.
Survival Tips for Extreme Heat:
It’s recommended that we drink at least 8 glasses of water every day. In the hot weather, to avoid heatstroke and other heat related illnesses, it’s important to ensure you drink more than the recommended 8 glasses of water. Even if you don’t feel thirsty it’s important to keep drinking water on hot days as this can keep you from becoming dehydrated. Alcoholic, caffeinated and sugary drinks are best avoided during times of extreme heat as they can make dehydration worse.
If possible it’s best to stay out of the sun and indoors during extremely hot weather. Staying in a cool, air conditioned environment is usually best.
While this may not always be possible, there are other things you can do to try and keep cool. Drinking plenty of cold water, eating smaller meals (preferably cold i.e. salads, cold sandwiches), wearing light and loose fitted clothes, and having a cold bath or shower.
It may not be practicable to avoid going out in the sun, but planning ahead and drinking plenty of water can reduce your chances of suffering from a heat related illness.
If you will have to venture out in the heat, try and do so in the morning or evenings as they tend to be the coolest times of the day.
Avoid or reschedule any strenuous activities including, but not limited to; physically demanding work, exercise, and gardening.
Keep stocked up on food, cold water and ice to help keep your energy levels up and avoid becoming dehydrated.