Beating the heat means more than just grabbing the sunscreen and a bottle of water. How would you manage if your car broke down as you were driving your infant child, elderly grandparents and the family dog to the cottage in 40°C weather? Heat-related illness can afflict anyone, some more seriously than others. What should you know?
Remember that feeling of exhaustion after a week’s vacation of fun in the sun? After spending time at the beach or on the golf course, all you can think about is going home to take a nap. Although we long for the hot summer days, when they hit we seem to be dog-tired. Is there a reason for it? And what can we do manage it?
Your body goes through tremendous stress in the hot weather and can result in a heat-related illness – heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke or dehydration. Bear in mind that heat-related illness is easier to prevent than to treat.
Heat-related illness occurs during days with extreme heat and humidity – those days you feel like you’re in a sauna or when you take a deep breath and all you feel is suffocated. Heat-related illness ranges from temporary discomfort to a life-threatening state. Knowing a little bit about this summertime culprit and incorporating some simple practices may save you from a disastrous vacation.
Some people may be prone to heat-related illness, so it’s important to be cognizant of those in your community who are at increased risk. I know I feel comforted when my mother’s neighbours check in on her during days of extreme heat as well as extreme cold. Seniors and young children, especially infants, are much more sensitive to extreme heat. That’s because children’s bodies have a smaller surface area and are unable to regulate their body temperatures as quickly as adults. And seniors may have pre-existing conditions, or they may be taking medication, that can alter their body response mechanism. High temperatures and humidity change our body’s responses, increase our energy usage, and put our bodies into stress mode causing dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
No matter what the age, here are the symptoms of a heat-related illness:
• Dizziness or fainting
• Felling unwell, nausea or vomiting
• Increased breathing and heartbeat
• Extreme thirst
If you’ve been exposed to the elements and are experiencing these symptoms, you need to remove yourself from the sun and get to a cool place. But don’t do the extreme opposite by going where it’s really cold or into a swimming pool that’s located in the sun. You should find a cool place, preferably indoors, sit or lie down, and drink lots of water. If the symptoms persist, call your health-care practitioner.
Preventing heat-related illness is the best approach for yourself, your children, your aging parents, friends and neighbours:
• Prepare for the day, know the weather forecast, bring the essentials: water, protective clothing and nutrition.
• Stay in the shade if you have to be outdoors, or take breaks in the shade or in an air-conditioned building.
• Know where your community cooling centres are: shopping malls, libraries and other facilities that are air-conditioned.
• Be sure to drink plenty of cool water before you start your activity and whenever you feel thirsty.
• Wear loose, light-coloured, breathable clothing. Wear a hat or use an umbrella to shade from the sun.
• Be sun / skin smart by avoiding prolonged periods in the direct sun. Protect your skin with sunscreen.
• Get wet – jump through a sprinkler, into a pool, or take a cool shower to help you cool down.
• Plan outdoor activities during non-peak sun times, such as early morning or in the evening.
You can also prevent a heat incident by using common sense: Never leave anyone, including a pet, inside a parked and locked car or in the direct sunlight if they cannot relocate themselves. Make it a habit to check-in on neighbours that are vulnerable in extreme heat.
Heat stroke is the most dangerous of heat-related illnesses. If not treated, it can be fatal. A medical emergency of prolonged, untreated heat exposure and exhaustion cannot be managed on one’s own. Individuals suffering from heat stroke may develop a high fever (body temperatures as high as 40.5°C or 105°F) and stop sweating; they can become confused or disoriented; and they may collapse and become unresponsive. This is a medical emergency that requires treatment at the local emergency department.
Know the weather before you venture outdoors; know your risk and be prepared. During winter, we carry a car emergency kit to protect ourselves from the extreme cold. I believe we also need to carry a summer car survival kit so that we’re protected from extremely hot weather if our cars break down and we become stranded.
Now that’s a great subject for next week’s blog… stay tuned!