IN light of the extreme temperatures being recorded in various parts of Zimbabwe going as high as 45 degrees Celcius in the
shade in some cases, and the danger of heat stroke and other health complications, there is need to protect oneself from possible hyperthemia. The best defence is prevention.
We outline some prevention tips below:
Drink more fluids (non-alcoholic), regardless of your activity level.
Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. Warning, if your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
Don't drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar - these actually cause you to lose more body fluid.
Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place.
If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library - even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness.
Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off in the hot weather.
Wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing.
NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.
Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on:
- l Infants and young children
- l People aged 65 or older
- l People who have a mental illness
- l Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure
Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for any signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.
If you must be out in the heat:
- Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
- If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour.
A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.
- Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
- Remember the warning in the first "tip" (above), too.
- Try to rest often in shady areas.
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels).
Signs of heat-related problems
If you are caring for an elderly or disabled person, learn the signs of heat-related problems.
Seek medical assistance for any of the following signs and - if you suspect heat stroke - call emergency number or medical personnel immediately.
Headache, nausea and fatigue are signs of at least some heat stress.
Heat fatigue: cool, moist skin, a weakened pulse, feeling faint.
Heat syncope: sudden dizziness, pale, sweaty looking skin that is moist and cool to the touch, weakened pulse and rapid heart rate but normal body temperature.
Heat cramps: muscle spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs after exercise. (Note that these may be caused by lack of salt but do not give salt or salt tablets without consulting a physician.)
Heat exhaustion: this is warning that the body is getting too hot.
Watch for thirst, giddiness, weakness, lack of co-ordination, nausea, and profuse sweating. Cold, clammy skin.
Body temperature may be normal. Pulse is normal or raised slightly.
Pupils may contract. Urination decreases and the person may vomit.
Heat stroke: this is life-threatening. Immediate medical attention is required.
Death can occur quickly when heat stroke occurs.
Body temperature rises above 100 degrees F, the person may become confused, combative, behave bizarrely, feel faint, stagger. Pulse is rapid. Skin is dry, flushed and may feel hot.
Lack of sweating.
Breathing may be fast and shallow. Pupils may widen or dilate.
Delirium, seizures or convulsions, and coma are possible.
To alleviate symptoms for any heat-related problem and while waiting for medical help:
Have the person lie down in a cool place.
Elevate the feet.
Apply cool, wet cloths or water to the skin, especially the head, groin and armpits which cool quickly.
Fan by hand or with an electric fan.
If possible, give small sips of cool water (no salt without a doctor's approval)
Do not use rubbing alcohol.
And remember - if you suspect heat stroke, call emergency medical personnel immediately.
Following a heat stress episode, a person will likely feel tired and weak for several days.
Continued monitoring is important.
This information provided by NCEH's Health Studies Branch. - CDC