Staying cool in soaring temperatures | Sunday Observer

Staying cool in soaring temperatures

21 April, 2019

With zooming temperatures peaking at 44 degrees Celsius and the blazing sun directly over us, despite sporadic rains in the afternoons, it is not surprising to find most of us crouching under ceiling fans, or for those who can afford it trying to beat the heat inside air conditioned rooms.

Temperatures as high as we are currently experiencing is unusual even for this time of the year. Inconvenience aside, extreme heat can cause serious health impacts on our bodies, as per evidence borne out by recent studies, one stating that excessive heat caused more than 600 deaths each year in the western countries. Neighbouring India has fared no better with scenes of people bathing in muddy waters and pools to cool themselves. In Sri Lanka we spotted a few scenes of women and children in drought stricken areas like the North Central Province even sharing waterholes of wild animals, putting them at risk of grave health consequences.

So who is at risk ? Infants? Young children? Elderly? Those with compromised immune systems? Everyone, say our health experts. But some, more than others.

As a geriatric specialist observes, “Even though the adverse impacts of health from hot weather is no respecter of persons, those most at risk of heat related illnesses are people aged 65 and above. A specialist in non communicable disease adds people with chronic diseases to the at-risk list, while sources from the Mental Health Unit, opined that mentally ill persons are also vulnerable, since like elders and those with chronic illnesses, they too depend on others to keep their body temperatures normal.”

Obese Are you obese or overweight? Then be extra careful of what you eat and drink if you are trying to beat the heat. According to health sources obese persons are at high risk of heat related impacts as they cannot easily lower their body temperatures due to the fat layer in the body. “Usually, body temperature is controlled by sweating. But when humidity in the environment rises, this process does not take place properly, especially, if one is obese,” he notes.

Children? To a question by the Sunday Observer on how extreme heat can affect children, a pediatric doctor says all young children were at risk, especially, of sun stroke if they were out in the blazing sun. “Keep a watchful eye especially on children under four years. Infants and children, like the elderly are extremely sensitive to temperature changes. When the humidity is high, sweat won’t evaporate as quickly, which keeps your body from releasing heat as fast as it may need to.”

Alcohol Fighting the heat wave with gallons of cool beer and wine will not help either, health officials have warned. Alcohol and extremely cold drinks are just as much a risk factor as diuretics, beta blockers, heart problems and skin disorders. “

So what’s the solution? Remain hydrated. Stay in an air-conditioned or shady location as much as possible. Drink plenty of fluids even if you don’t feel thirsty. Schedule outdoor activities carefully. Wear loose, lightweight, light-coloured clothing and sunscreen. Take cool showers or baths. Never leave children or pets in cars. If you go outside, wear a cap or use an umbrella but avoid the sun as much as possible. Taking short breaks in the shade is a must for all those working outdoors. Check the Met Department notices for the latest news on the weather. Read all safety updates provided by the Health Ministry.

Advice for physically active persons If you are a physically active person taking a break from such activities for a while is advisable. Those engaged in sports, gardening, running, walking and playing outdoor games should limit these activities for the time being till the heat wave is behind us.

“But you don’t have to give them up completely,” says a sports specialist. “Try and do most of these vigorous activities early morning before the sun gets too hot, and in the evening when it is cooler.”

Symptoms of extreme heat impacts Do you have a redness or irritation of the skin? It could be an early sign of extreme heat affecting your skin , says a Dermatologist. Skin rashes can appear on the neck, chest and breasts. Cramps can also develop if there is poor circulation. Cramps can be eased by drinking minerals and resting. You can avoid these effects by keeping your body temperature cool by taking plenty of liquids even if you don’t want to, and having several baths. Avoid hot beverages, such as, tea and coffee and hot meals. Don’t go outside during the hottest times of the day. Keep your skin well hydrated.

The good news is that heat stroke is very rare in Sri Lanka according to our health sources. It could occur when the body fails to control the body temperature and the brain and nervous system gets damaged.

As we swelter in the hottest, driest April we have seen in recent years, and brace ourselves for another hot month ahead of us , let’s not forget an important fact: Raping our forests and depriving them of their natural green cover in the name of construction and development is as much a fallout as the natural causes for the heat wave we are now experiencing.

Another possible scenario in the future linked to heat related health impacts is the danger of a host of other communicable diseases which we see emerging with a vengeance.

Heat waves are seasonal. But cooling an arid forest is a far more challenging task. Only responsible action on our collective part can prevent more heat related disasters in the future. With the Government poised to replant over one million trees as new community forests is indeed a step forward in this respect.