Beat the Heat
On very cold days you put on your pullover. If this is not enough you add another layer of clothing, a parka or similar, or you wear thermal underwear. On hot days you obviously shed as many layers of clothes as possible. But once you reach the bare skin, or close to it, that is it. Other than moving into an air conditioned environment, you have to rely entirely on your body’s ability to shed excess heat. The good news: you can help your body achieve this task.
- Avoid direct sunlight. Seek a shady spot wherever and whenever possible to give your temperature regulation system a chance to recover. A picnic in the shade of trees is better than a roasting on the beach.
- Schedule your exercises for the cooler parts of the day or avoid exercising altogether. Drink before, during and after exercises.
- If possible, stay in an air conditioned environment. If you don’t have air conditioning, go to the movies or visit climate-controlled public places for a few hours. This is particularly true for the elderly and patients with heart or circulation problems.
- Aid the cooling effect of evaporation by using fans or moist towels. Take regular cool showers.
- Replenish the lost fluids and electrolytes. Drink plenty of water and remember to drink more than you ‘feel’ you should. Replace body salts with meals or drinks such as fruit juices or sport drinks. Persons on a fluid-restricted diet, however, should consult their physician before increasing the consumption.
- Avoid diuretic drinks such as alcohol, coffee and tea because they will increase your fluid loss. The icy-cold beer is only a temporary relief. Matters will get worse soon after the cold sensation stops.
- Outdoors, wear wide-brimmed hats to provide shade and wear lightly coloured and loose-fitting clothes. Light colours reflect radiation. The difference between serious health damage and mild discomfort can be as simple as wearing the appropriate clothes.
- Acclimatize your body. If you are not used to hot conditions, start any strenuous activity slowly. Give yourself a few days rest when travelling to a hot climate.
- Sunscreen doesn’t keep the heat away but it prevents sunburn. Sunburnt skin affects the cooling ability.
- Have small meals and more often. Avoid ‘heavy’ meals.
- Never leave kids or pets in the car on hot days.
Electric fans do nothing else than stir the air and this indirectly cools your body, as the air movement blows away the hot and moist layer near your skin. This allows more sweat to evaporate, thus cooling your body. If your skin were dry, you wouldn’t feel a temperature difference. Consequently, if you want maximum cooling, keep your skin moist. Fans are also useful at night to help exchange the air between a warm room and the hopefully cooler air outside.
Fans have their limits. When the temperatures soar towards 38°C or above, cooling becomes ineffective. The fan acts more like a hairdryer set on high heat. Your body’s cooling mechanism is no longer capable of dealing with the hot air and your body temperature begins to rise. Now it is time for a cold shower instead.
Reacting to early warning signs prevents heat illness. Look out for signs such as dizziness, tiredness, profuse sweating, muscle cramping, rapid heartbeat, headache or nausea. If the intervals between toilet visits become longer and your urine is dark, you dehydrate. Not everyone is well equipped to recognize the signs, though. A lack of knowledge is the major hindrance. Health authorities often start their education campaigns when the hot weather has already arrived. Sadly, the arrival of a cool breeze may blow away any lessons learnt. Others recognize the signs but can’t react due to physical restraints. Many frail and sick rely on help, which sometimes comes too late.
Employers are responsible for the welfare of their workers. Managers and supervisors need to know the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and should be aware of the state of health of their employees. As a precaution, they should reduce the work rate and increase the rest periods during heat wave conditions. Some employers are responsible enough and send their workers home when the temperatures at the work place exceed a certain limit.
Predicting heat waves is fairly easy. More often than not, the weather services issue warnings well in advance. The forecast includes an ‘apparent’ temperature that takes into account the expected humidity. A high temperature and low humidity is much more bearable than the same temperature is in combination with high humidity. The serious effects of a heat wave generally don’t surface until the second or third day.
This gives the authorities ample time to warn the public and take appropriate measures such as:
- Heat wave alerts on television, radio and in print media including public health information about the dangers of heat-related illnesses.
- Home care providers educate their often frail patients during their visits.
- Establishment of an information telephone line.
- Advice to take care of relatives and friends without air conditioning.
- Provision of air conditioned shelters in public places, such as shopping malls, libraries and churches.
- Subsidized or free electricity for the poor during heat waves.