Home Health Avoid the dangers of hot weather

Avoid the dangers of hot weather

by Tania Griffin

With hot temperatures over much of South Africa, the potential health risks of heat exposure should not be underestimated. 

“Members of the public are urged to take the necessary precautions during widespread heatwave conditions experienced across the country to prevent medical emergencies linked to high temperatures,” says Mande Toubkin, Netcare’s general manager of emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment.

“In hot and humid conditions, a person can develop heat exhaustion quickly – especially if they are physically active and not drinking enough fluids. Extra care is needed for children and older people in the heat, as well as individuals with chronic conditions such as epilepsy, high blood pressure or diabetes. Certain medications, such as diuretics, can also increase vulnerability to dehydration and heat stroke.”

Heatstroke must be treated as an emergency requiring medical attention, adds Shalen Ramduth, Netcare 911’s operations director. 

“Usually, our bodies can regulate our temperature by releasing excess heat via the skin or through the evaporation of perspiration, but in extreme heat and humidity, the body may not be able to cool itself fast enough, leading to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Dehydration and overexertion can also cause a person to develop potentially serious heat-related conditions,” he adds.

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, headache, vomiting, fatigue, muscle cramps, aches and dizziness. 

Heat stroke, which happens when a person’s temperature reaches or exceeds 40 degrees Celsius, has symptoms that may differ from one person to another. These may include symptoms similar to heat exhaustion, dry, flushed skin without sweating, a rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, confusion, unusual behaviour, seizures and even loss of consciousness. 

“Seek medical assistance as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms – because if not treated properly and promptly, heat stroke can cause a person to slip into a coma and suffer organ failure,” Ramduth says. 

“Immediately start cooling the person down by getting them to a cooler area out of direct sunlight, loosening or removing excess clothing, and placing the person in a bath of lukewarm water if they are conscious while waiting for help.

“Do not use cold water to cool a person with heat exhaustion or suspected heatstroke, as this can trap heat and prevent it from escaping from the body’s core,” he advises. 

“One of the greatest dangers that can lead to heatstroke, and sometimes profound tragedy, is when someone is left in a parked vehicle in the sun. On a day of just 26.6 degrees Celsius, an experiment by the US Center for Disease Control monitored the internal temperature of a parked car soared to 42.7C in just 20 minutes. After an hour, inside the car was 50C – almost twice the external temperature.”  

Safety tips for hot weather 

  • Sun damage is an ever-present danger. Parents must regularly apply sunscreen with high protection factors to their children.
  • Outdoor activities should be avoided during the hottest part of the day.
  • Drink plenty of water, and avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
  • Sports rehydration drinks can be used to replace electrolytes lost from perspiration.
  • Senior citizens and children are more vulnerable to heat exhaustion and heatstroke, so take special care to keep them cool and well hydrated.
  • Antihistamines, diuretics and alcohol should be avoided if spending time in the sun.
  • Never leave anyone – including a pet – in a parked car, even for short periods.
  • Get into the habit of checking the backseat of your vehicle every time you park to ensure no one is forgotten.

    For assistance in a medical emergency, contact Netcare 911 on 082 911 or by using the Netcare App, which includes emergency call and geolocation functions to assist in minimising response times by precisely locating callers – even in remote areas or if the caller doesn’t know the address.

    The Netcare App also includes a Netcare 911 60-second call-back option and provides tracking of the ambulance and response vehicles’ estimated arrival time.

    “Prevention is always preferable to the health complications of hyperthermia. Keep safe and cool in the heat,” Toubkin concludes.

    Image credit: Freepik

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