In summer, and sometimes in mid-seasons, people (especially senior people and children) run into increased danger due to high air temperatures and high humidity. This is especially dangerous when “heat waves” occur (a few particularly hot days in a row) and when the thermal load (a mixture of high temperature and relatively high humidity, or a very high temperature, even if the humidity level stays low) is significantly increased. Definition of the “heat wave” throughout different countries is the following: air temperature above 90°F for three consecutive days or more. A high thermal load will occur at a temperature of 86 °F in case if relative humidity exceeds 70%, or in a case of a higher temperature, even if humidity is lower.
Staying in the heat can lead to negative consequences of varying difficulty. The most dangerous consequences can be heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke happens if a person’s body cannot cool itself in hot weather: sweating is ineffective and body temperature quickly jumps, reaching sometimes 105.8°F and more within 15 minutes (!). Heat exhaustion is not as dangerous as the heat stroke, and is a consequence of staying in the heat during several days if a person does not drink enough water or other fluids.
High temperature is especially dangerous for elderly people. The danger increases even more if an elderly person suffers from excess weight, chronic diseases, takes certain medications, as well as in case of acute illnesses or dehydration being present at a person.
Recommendations as for preventing the adverse effects of sun exposure
The best way to protect yourself against the adverse effects of sun exposure is to prevent these effects. It is advisable to monitor weather forecasts and get prepared according to them. It is also necessary to pay attention not only to the air temperature, but also to the thermal load – a combination of air temperature and humidity.
• During the hours when the heat reaches its peak, it is strongly recommended to stay where the air conditioner works. If your home does not have AC, it is advisable to spend several hours in some public areas where the air conditioner works, and as little time as possible in the heat;
• In hot weather, a good practice is to draw the blinds or close the drapes to reduce the penetration of sunlight, but it is essential to ventilate the room. Closed blinds can reduce the penetration of heat into the apartment by about 80%;
• A cool shower (or bath) will help to cool the body;
• It is strongly recommended to wear light and only comfortable clothing;
• Try not to go out into the heat. A good option is to leave the house only in early morning and during the evening hours;
• During the hot weather rest is advisable. Do as little physical work and sports in hot weather as possible. In case you still need to do this, during exercise or work, needing with physical activity, drink 2-4 glasses of cold water and other soft drinks/liquids in a quantity which exceeds the recommended.
Please consult a doctor in such situations:
- If a person suffers from various cardiovascular diseases, some chronic illnesses, overweight, mental disorders, as well as in case of acute illnesses or dehydration;
- If a person takes medications acting on central nervous system (brain), such as sedatives, hypnotics, drugs for Parkinson’s disease, and medications for certain mental disorders. These drugs can increase significantly sensitivity to heat, which in its turn increases the risk of suffering from heat stroke.
The most dangerous consequences of staying in the heat are heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Usually, when the temperature rises, the body cools itself by sweating, and does not allow body temperature to rise. However, in hot weather and with high humidity, sweat does not evaporate quickly, and the body is not capable of cooling itself. In this case, a heat stroke can occur – the most dangerous consequence of the heat exposure on the body.
Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to cool itself in hot weather: sweating is ineffective and body temperature quickly jumps, reaching sometimes 105.8°F and more within 15 minutes. This can cause severe consequences for the nervous system and can be manifested by a darkening of consciousness, confusion of consciousness or convulsions, as well as a violation of the work of other vital organs. If a person suffered from heat stroke is not immediately provided with assistance, this can lead to death or permanent disability.
The risk of suffering from heat stroke is increased in the elderly, in infants and children from birth to 4 years old, in people suffering from cardiovascular diseases, in people suffering from excess weight, in people suffering from chronic diseases, in people taking certain drugs, as well as in case of acute illness or in case of lack of fluid in the body (dehydration).
Symptoms of heat stroke
The following symptoms are typical for a heat stroke:
- the first signs are: general weakness, a feeling of stuffiness and a strong thirst;
- high body temperature;
- pulse exceeds 130 beats per minute;
- blood pressure drops sharply (further, with normalization of body temperature, blood pressure is restored);
- loss of consciousness;
- some people experience diarrhea and vomiting.
In the absence of timely help, a person’s condition worsens and develops more serious symptoms:
- delirium and confusion;
- gastrointestinal bleeding;
- a syndrome of hepatic insufficiency, accompanied by jaundice, encephalopathy and hypoglycemia;
- acute renal damage, accompanied by oliguria (decrease in the amount of urine) by changing the color of urine.
A heat stroke requires the provision of emergent medical care. Timely assistance will prevent the development of irreversible processes in the body of the patient and reduce the risk of death.
What to do in cases of suspected heat stroke?
If there is a suspicion of heat stroke, it is necessary to take quickly all possible measures to lower the body temperature of the person. If possible, the patient should be transferred to an air-conditioned room, wrapped in a wet sheet, in general all possible steps should be taken to cool the affected person. It is quite effective to wipe the affected person with ice or alcohol.
To normalize the activity of the hypothalamus, an ice pack should be applied to the scalp.
The main task of the first aid is to lower the patient’s temperature below 102.2 °F. When providing first aid, continuous rectal body temperature control is recommended.
And of course the affected person should be quickly delivered to the hospital.
Studies have shown that when there is no assistance to the heat affected person within an hour, irreversible processes begin in the body that affect the central nervous system, leading to disability of the patient, or to a lethal outcome.