Home Health Don’t let rising temperatures get the better of you

Don’t let rising temperatures get the better of you

by Editor

“Given the high temperatures still impacting parts of the country at this time of year, it is wise to exercise caution to ensure the heat doesn’t get the better of you,” says Mande Toubkin, general manager: emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment at Netcare. 

Don’t underestimate the power of the sun

Toubkin suggests that those caring for small children and the elderly should be particularly vigilant when temperatures soar. “If you have a medical condition such as epilepsy or hypertension, you should take extra care. The same applies to people walking long distances – to and from school or work – and those working outdoors or exercising vigorously at the hottest time of the day.” 

She warns that risk is often aggravated by not staying properly hydrated, adding that people should try to drink at least two litres of water a day in hot conditions.

“Leaving babies, children, elderly persons or your pet unattended in vehicles, even for a short while, can be extremely dangerous, even fatal. The temperature inside a vehicle parked in the hot sun can quickly become like a furnace, which can be life-threatening,” cautions Toubkin.

The temperature inside a vehicle can rise significantly, with the greatest temperature increase occurring within the first 15 to 30 minutes. Leaving the windows slightly open does not decrease the maximum temperature measured inside the vehicle by much. Tests done on a relatively cool day indicated that the temperature inside a vehicle reached 37.7°C within 25 minutes while the outside temperature was only 22.7°C. 

From heatstroke exhaustion to heat stroke 

According to Toubkin, heatstroke can be fatal if not treated properly and promptly. “It occurs when the human body’s core temperature increases beyond 40 degrees, at which point it can cause patients to slip into a coma and suffer organ failure. The body generates heat, but is usually able to dissipate this by radiation via the skin or through the evaporation of sweat on the skin. In extremely hot or humid environments, and in cases where people overexert themselves, the body may not be able to get rid of the heat fast enough– resulting in hyperthermia which, in simple terms, is an abnormally elevated body temperature. 

“Heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke if not recognised and reversed. However, heatstroke can also develop rapidly and without warning. Athletes, the very young, elderly individuals, those taking certain medication and outdoor workers may be particularly at risk of developing heatstroke. The condition can also be a threat when undertaking vigorous work in warm indoor environments without the appropriate protective clothing,” she points out.

When to get medical help

Toubkin says heatstroke should first be prevented wherever possible by ensuring precautions are taken in very hot environments; however, should it occur, heatstroke should be treated as a medical emergency and emergency medical services should be contacted if you suspect someone is suffering from the condition. 

“It is vital to get the patient’s body temperature down to try and prevent organ damage. Move them out of the sun and into the shade and a cool area as soon as possible. You can remove their clothing and place them in a bathtub filled with cool or tepid water if they are conscious. Do not use very cold water, as it can prevent heat from escaping the body’s core. If a patient is placed in a bath, make sure they don’t lose consciousness. It is important that this is done while waiting for help,” she advises.  

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, headache, vomiting, fatigue, muscle cramps, aches and dizziness. Heatstroke symptoms may differ from person to person and may include similar symptoms to that of heat exhaustion including high body temperature; dry flushed skin with an absence of sweating; rapid pulse; trouble breathing; bewilderment and confusion; unusual and sometimes aggressive behaviour; seizures and losing consciousness. Seek medical assistance as soon as possible should any of these symptoms be noted.

Beat the heat with Toubkin’s tips:

• Avoid strenuous physical activity in the heat or hot, humid conditions.

• Avoid exposure to the sun in the middle of the day when the UV rays are at their most intense.

• Drink water and sports drinks to remain hydrated, but don’t over-hydrate. Rather drink small amounts at regular intervals.

• Avoid alcohol, fizzy cool drinks, tea and coffee, which may dehydrate you further.

• Wear protective sunglasses and a wide-brimmed sun hat.

• Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to areas of the body not protected by clothing. Reapply frequently.

• Make sure babies and children are well protected from the sun and kept cool.

• Avoid exposure to the sun during pregnancy.

• Avoid excessive exposure to the sun while swimming and during water activities.

• Check that medication being taken will not affect your sensitivity to heat.

• Do not leave anyone, especially babies, small children or the elderly in a locked car, not even for a few minutes.

“Plan your activities with care and pay the sun its due respect, and you should enjoy a summer free from health problems related to excessive heat,” concludes Toubkin.

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