By Behrooz-"Dr Bod"-Behbod MB ChB
We are well into the summer season, with greater outdoor activities and sports, but alongside that we must be aware of the associated heat-related health risks. The UK, as well as many other countries in northern Europe, has recently been experiencing temperatures above 30ºC, with those in the London Underground being above 40ºC!
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), about 318 Americans die every year as a result of heat-related illnesses, such as heatstroke. Those at greatest risk include children and the elderly, outdoor workers, athletes, exercisers, those suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, diseases of the skin, kidney or liver, conditions with a decreased ability to sweat, such as scleroderma and cystic fibrosis, and dehydrating medications such as water pills, allergy pills, tranquilizers and amphetamines.
Surviving the summer heat can be very simple, provided one learns how to detect the signs and symptoms of heatstroke, whilst preventing dehydration.
Heatstroke (also known as sunstroke with excessive sunlight exposure) is a condition that occurs after exposure to excessive heat. Heatstroke occurs when the body's temperature control system (thermoregulation) stops functioning normally. As the body temperature increases, sweating occurs and as the sweat evaporates, your body cools down. In very dry air, sweat evaporates easily and quickly cools your body. However, in places with high humidity levels such as the UK & Mediterranean islands like Cyprus, sweat does not evaporate as easily. This in turn reduces the cooling effect of sweat evaporation, eventually leading to raised body temperature levels and the onset of the symptoms of heatstroke.
Be aware of the following 'alarms' signaling the danger of heatstroke:
" Dry lips and tongue, and darker urine (signs of dehydration which can quickly lead to heatstroke)
" Sudden dizziness, weakness or faintness
" Sudden headache
" Little or no sweating
" Rapid, weak pulse
" Rapid, shallow breathing
" Hot, red and dry skin
" High body temperature, typically 102 F (38.9 C) or higher
" Nausea & vomiting
" Muscle cramps
" Coma and even death!
Here are five simple and effective tips:
1. When you're thirsty, it's already too late - so make sure you stay hydrated by drinking 2 - 3 litres of water per day.
2. During exercise sessions (or work-related activity), take regular sips of water and drink about 1 litre of water per hour of activity.
3. Sports drinks that contain sodium, potassium, other electrolytes and sugar are a good option to stay hydrated during times of long exposure to the heat without food.
3. Avoid or reduce alcohol and caffeinated beverages such as coffee or cola, which dehydrate the body even further.
4. Limit exposure to the sun and heat:
a. Find shady or air-conditioned areas;
b. Wear lightweight and light coloured loose-fitting clothing;
c. Wear a hat to provide shade to the face, neck and ears;
d. Wear the appropriate level of sunscreen;
e. Avoid strenuous activity or exercise during the midday heat - the early morning is usually the coolest part of the day.
5. Choose foods with high water content, such as fruits and salads. Eat light and avoid hot, heavy meals.
Provided you protect yourself from the risks mentioned above, it is just as vital to make the most out of the summer months by taking part in healthy outdoor activities such as walking, jogging, swimming and playing a wide variety of sports - so have fun and enjoy!