We have all felt the temperatures rocket over the recent weeks, but how can we spot when the heat is making us ill and what can we do to stop it?
As a seasoned resident of Dubai, the summer heat and fierce humidity (big hair anyone?) will leave you feeling sluggish at best, but at worst, coping with the heat can mean the difference between life and death.
Heat related deaths are preventable, yet every year, people pass away because of heat. Historically, from 1979-2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States. During this period, more people died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightening, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. In 2001 alone, 300 deaths were caused by excessive heat exposure.
Hot, Hot, Hot
Heat related illness (commonly summed up purely as heat stroke) occurs in people when their bodies are unable to properly cool themselves. The normal process as I am sure you know, is that when the body is hot it cools itself by sweating. Sometimes however, this doesn’t work and the person’s body temperature rapidly rises, which can lead to brain damage and/or damaged of other organs and/or a coma.
In humid conditions – such as those we feel at the moment – the body’s sweat does not evaporate quick enough to cool the body as needed so we should take this very seriously. Other factors can increase your chances of becoming ill due to the heat, and these include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.
Yes, air-conditioning (AC) is your friend. It will protect you and you should use it. However, everyone can succumb to heat if they do not take simple precautions.
All you need to do is ensure you are sensible in the heat; minimise the amount of heat you are all exposed to and stay out of the sun in the middle of the day. Whenever possible, work in the shade or in ac/cool areas, and don’t over exert yourself and if working, take regular breaks. Yes, air conditioning is your friend. Use it because like any good friend, it will protect you.
The 5 Types of Heat Related Illness
So what are the effects of heat related illness? There are five types of heat related illness that you should be aware of:
- Heat exhaustion (HE)
- Heat Stroke (HS)
- Heat Cramps (HC)
- Sunburn (SB)
- Prickly heat (PH)
Heat Exhaustion (HE)
HE occurs when a person is exposed to high temperatures for several days and becomes dehydrated. The most common signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Excessive thirst
- Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pale skin
- Profuse sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
Whilst this is not as serious as Heat Stroke (HS), it should not be taken as any less of a concern. Without recognising that the symptoms and applying timely treatment, it can progress to HS, which can damage the brain and even cause death.
If you notice the symptoms in either yourself or others, ensure you immediately get out of the heat and takes a rest break in the shade or an a/c building. Other treatments include:
- Drinking plenty of fluid (avoid caffeine and alcohol)
- Remove any tight or unnecessary clothing
- Dowse them in water
- Apply other cooling measures such as fans/ice towels
After 30 minutes, if you fail to notice an improvement, contact a doctor for further advice to ensure that it does not progress to Heat Stroke.
Heat Stroke (HS)
HS is a form of hyperthermia, an abnormally elevated body temperature with accompanying physical symptoms including changes in the nervous system function. Often referred to as heatstroke or sunstroke, the term stroke is used as it refers to a decreased oxygen flow to an area of the brain. Severe hyperthermia is defined as a body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher.
HS is a medical emergency that is often fatal if not properly and promptly treated.
HS symptoms can sometimes mimic those of heart attack. It is not unusual that they have previously displayed symptoms of HE previously. Also, HS symptoms may occur suddenly and develop rapidly. Signs and symptoms include:
- muscle cramps/aches
- high body temperature
- the absence of sweating, with hot red or flushed dry skin
- rapid pulse
- difficulty breathing
- strange behavior
- seizure, and/or
If you notice any of these symptoms, guide the person concerned ideally to an AC building and immediately call an ambulance. Remove as much clothing as possible and try to call them down by pouring water over them whilst you wait for the medics.
Heat Cramps (HC)
Do you sweat a lot during strenuous activity? If so, you are at risk of heat cramps as sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture, which in turn causes your muscles to cramp. HC are often a symptom of HE and therefore HS.
HC are muscle pains or spasms, usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs; that may occur in association with strenuous activity.
If medical attention is not necessary, take these steps:
- Stop: all activity, and sit quietly in a cool place
- Drink clear juice or a sports beverage
- Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside to ensure they do not develop HE or HS
- Seek medical attention if cramps do not subside in 1 hour
Sunburn should be avoided because it damages the skin and can cause cancer, which may be fatal later in life. Also, serious sunburn may cause your staff to take time off of work, so advising them to use sunscreen at all times, and supplying it to those who work outdoors, may save you money in the future through negating the affects of loss productivity.
Although the discomfort is usually minor and healing tends to occur in about a week, medical attention may be necessary if it is severe, but generally the symptoms are that the skin becomes red, painful, and abnormally warm after sun exposure.
You may wish to consult a medical practitioner if, your sunburn is accompanied by:
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Severe pain
Top tips when treating sunburn:
- Avoid repeated sun exposure
- Apply cold compresses or immerse the sunburned area in cool water
- Apply moisturising lotion to affected areas; do not use salve, butter, or ointment
- Do not break blisters
Prickly Heat is a heat rash skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather and is the least concerning heat related medical condition. It looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters and tends to occur on the neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases. Whilst this may not seem like much, it is uncomfortable, leading employees to have a drop in production, as their minds are on their how they feel as opposed to the task in hand.
The most effective treatment is to retire to an ac building. Keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may increase comfort. Medical treatment is not normally required.