Rising heat triggers health concerns; doctors stress need for precautionary measures

Health experts issue guidelines to combat possible health risks due to rising temperatures and prolonged exposure to heat.

BySumit Jha

Published May 20, 2023 | 9:00 AM Updated May 20, 2023 | 9:00 AM

Rising heat triggers health concerns; doctors stress need for precautionary measures

With the temperature fast soaring across the South, health experts are raising concerns over the potential health risks associated with heat waves and prolonged exposure to high temperatures.

Doctors have emphasised the need for precautionary measures to avoid heat-related illnesses, while state governments and the India Meteorological Department (IMD) have issued guidelines to follow during the summer to maintain one’s well-being.

Heat exhaustion, characterised by symptoms such as excessive sweating, fatigue, dizziness, headache, and muscle cramps, is more prevalent during the scorching summer days.

Also Read: IMD advises caution as South India sweats and swears under the sun

‘Heatstrokes will increase in rural areas’

Speaking to South First, health experts warned that an extended period of high temperatures, coupled with humidity, could impact one’s health.

Hyderabad-based physician Dr Rajeev Kaushik stated that cases of heatstroke are likely to increase, especially in rural areas.

Heatstroke affects several organ systems. (Matthew Kenwrick/Flickr)

Heatstroke affects several organ systems. (Matthew Kenwrick/Flickr)

“A heatstroke occurs when the body becomes overheated and struggles to cool down. It is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition that can occur when the body’s temperature regulation system fails,” Dr Kaushik told South First.

“It is characterised by a body temperature above 40°C (104°F), hot and dry skin (lack of sweating), rapid heartbeat, confusion, disorientation, unconsciousness, and even seizures,” he added.

The doctor said the most common health-related issue during the summer is, of course, dehydration.

“High temperatures can lead to increased sweating and fluid loss, resulting in dehydration. Symptoms include excessive thirst, dry mouth, dark-coloured urine, fatigue, dizziness, and reduced urine output,” according to Dr Kaushik.

Besides this, the high summer temperature can also worsen respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Heat can also put stress on the cardiovascular system, leading to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events, particularly in individuals with existing heart conditions.

Also Read: Is cold water your go-to drink to quench that summer thirst?

Increase in mental distress

“People may feel distressed during the summer, but it shouldn’t lead to any disorder unrelated to the heat,” explained Dr Pragya Rashmi, a psychologist based in Hyderabad.

Talking to South First, she highlighted a unique issue during the summer, which is an increase in substance abuse, particularly the use of coolants. Some individuals turn to cold beer or local alcoholic beverages, such as “hooch” to cool themselves down and fall asleep, which can be problematic.

Coconut water provides both nutrients and hydration. (Wikimedia Commons)

Coconut water provides both nutrients and hydration. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dr Rashmi further explained that dehydration can lead to a decrease in Vitamin B12 levels in the body since it is water-soluble. This can result in restlessness, difficulty focusing, and a lack of motivation.

To overcome these challenges, she advised maintaining optimal activity levels. “It’s important not to overexert oneself or be too lethargic. Hydration is crucial, not just through drinking water, but also by applying lotion to keep the skin hydrated,” said Dr Rashmi.

She recommended using a mild summer lotion to prevent skin irritation and dry lips. For individuals who have to spend time in the sun, she advised planning the day to minimise exposure during peak temperature. Consuming fresh seasonal fruits is also advisable.

Dr Rashmi emphasised adjusting one’s food intake according to the season. It’s best to avoid excessive fried food or heavy dishes like biryani, which can be difficult to digest in hot weather. Instead, opting for lighter and more nutritious meals is recommended.

Also Read: Is it safe to go running in summer?

Symptoms to look out for

As temperatures continue to rise in various states, health officials and the IMD have issued warnings regarding potential health issues.

The Telangana Health Department has advised people be alert to the following conditions that may arise due to high temperatures:

  • Altered mental sensorium with disorientation: This includes symptoms such as confusion, agitation, irritability, ataxia (lack of muscle coordination), seizures, and even coma.
  • Hot, red, and dry skin: The skin may feel excessively hot to the touch, appear flushed or red, and lack moisture or sweat.
  • Body temperature ≥40°C or 104°F: A high body temperature that reaches or exceeds 40°C (104°F) can be indicative of heat-related illnesses.
  • Throbbing headache: Intense, pulsating headaches can occur as a result of the heat.
  • Anxiety, dizziness, fainting, and light-headedness: These symptoms may arise due to heat-induced stress on the body.
  • Muscle weakness or cramps: High temperatures can cause muscle weakness or involuntary contractions known as cramps.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Heat-related illnesses can lead to feelings of nausea and vomiting.
  • Rapid heartbeat: The heart may beat faster than usual in response to the heat.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing: Heat-related stress can result in increased breathing rate with shallow breaths.

Also Read: Kerala searches for cool options as it wilts under a scorching sun

IMD guidelines

The IMD has also issued provided guidelines to follow during high temperatures:

  • Avoid going out in the sun, especially between 12 noon and 3 pm when temperatures are at their peak.
  • Drink sufficient water regularly, even if you do not feel thirsty, to stay hydrated.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting, and breathable cotton clothing. Use protective goggles, an umbrella/hat, and suitable footwear when going out in the sun.
  • Avoid engaging in strenuous activities during high temperatures, particularly between 12 noon and 3 pm.
  • Carry water with you when travelling to ensure hydration on the go.
  • Leave bowls of water outside in the summer for birds and animals. (Kamna Revanoor)

    Leave bowls of water outside in the summer for birds and animals. (Kamna Revanoor)

    If you work outdoors, use a hat or umbrella for shade and a damp cloth to cool your head, neck, face, and limbs.

  • Never leave children or pets unattended in parked vehicles, as the temperature inside can quickly become dangerously high.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you faint or feel unwell.
  • Use oral rehydration solutions (ORS) or homemade drinks like lassi, torani (rice water), lemon water, buttermilk, etc, to replenish fluids and electrolytes in the body.
  • Provide shade and ample water for animals to drink to keep them hydrated and protected from the heat.
  • Keep your home cool by using curtains, shutters, or sunshades. Open windows during the cooler hours of the night.
  • Use fans and damp clothing to create a cooling effect, and take frequent baths with cold water.

In case a person is affected by sunstroke, lay them in a cool place in the shade, wipe their body with a wet cloth, and frequently pour room-temperature water on their head to bring down their body temperature.

Offer ORS, lemon sherbet, or other hydrating beverages. Seek immediate medical attention and hospitalisation, as heatstrokes can be fatal.

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