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Heatwave Health Hazards: How to Prevent Heat-related Illnesses

Many parts of India, particularly in the north region, are currently grappling with a severe heatwave, a phenomenon that has become increasingly frequent and intense due to climate change. With temperatures soaring up to 50° celsius in highly populated areas like Delhi NCR, it's crucial to understand the various heat-related health risks that are becoming more and more common, and how to safeguard yourself and your family from the heat. 

Heatwave Health Hazards

In this blog, find out all that you need to know about heatwave 2024 to stay informed and educated about the diseases, illnesses, and risks associated with heatwaves, and how to go about heatwave treatment, prevention and management.


WHAT IS HEATWAVE?

A heatwave is a prolonged period of excessively high heat weather that is caused by the formation of a high-pressure area in the upper atmosphere which also may be accompanied by high humidity. According to meteorological standards, a situation where the maximum temperature exceeds the normal temperature by 5-6°C or more for an extended period of time is called a heatwave situation.


As of May 2024, several parts of North India are experiencing daily temperatures above 45°C with a ‘Severe Weather Alert’ of ‘Excessive Heat’ in Delhi, making it significantly detrimental to daily life and health.


COMMON HEAT-RELATED ILLNESSES

With such excessively high temperatures and loo-like weather in Delhi, you must be informed of the various heat-related illnesses such as Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke, Heat Rashes, Heat Syncope and how to prevent dehydration. 


COMMON HEAT-RELATED ILLNESSES

  • Heat Exhaustion: Symptoms & Prevention

Heat exhaustion, as the name suggests, occurs when the body loses excessive water and electrolytes due to prolonged sweating which leads to a state of physical weakness. It is fairly common during the peak summer months and can be identified by heavy sweating, weakness, and nausea, and can escalate to more serious conditions if not addressed promptly.


The best ways to prevent heat exhaustion is to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other electrolyte-rich liquids of your choice, avoid strenuous physical activities during the hottest part of the day (morning to noon), wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing and take frequent breaks in cool, shaded or air-conditioned areas.


  • Heat stroke: Symptoms & Prevention

A heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s natural ability of temperature regulation fails and the body temperature rapidly rises to dangerous levels. This requires immediate medical intervention without which there is a risk of severe damage to internal organs or even death.

Heat stroke: Symptoms & Prevention

Some common symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperatures generally above 40°C, experience of deranged mental state resulting in altered behaviour, nausea and vomiting, flushed and reddish skin, Difficulty in breathing and racing heart rate. 

In order to stay safe from such a serious condition like heat stroke, make sure to follow all the preventive measures for heat exhaustion, stay informed to recognize early signs of heat stroke and mitigate the same to prevent faster progression. Remember to seek immediate medical attention if symptoms of heat stroke appear.


  • Heat Rashes

Heat rashes are very common among people residing in humid regions. When sweat glands become blocked and swell up leading to discomfort and itching, heat rashes appear as red clusters of pimples or small blisters. A few ways to prevent heat rashes is to keep your skin cool and dry as much as possible, wear summer-friendly breathable clothing like pure cotton and linen clothes, use talcum powder to reduce sweating and irritation and take a bath with cold water and antibacterial soap regularly after stepping out. 


  • Heat Syncope or Dizziness

Heat syncope is a condition where you experience sudden dizziness caused by prolonged exposure to heat, spending excessive energy or from suddenly rising up from a rest position. The major cause behind heat syncope is dehydration. Although it’s a temporary condition that usually results from poor acclimatisation to hot environments, a few ways to avoid it include staying hydrated, immediately shifting to a cool place when feeling uncomfortable or dizzy and gradually acclimatising oneself to heat exposure if one is not used to high temperatures. 


Heat Syncope or Dizziness

Most importantly, the one thing to remember to avoid heat-related illnesses and health hazards during excessive heat waves is to stay hydrated. The best way to avoid such health hazards is to consume ample fluids throughout the day, increase hydrating foods like cucumbers and fruits in your diet, and avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages which can increase your dehydration.


PSYCHOLOGICAL & MENTAL HEALTH IMPACT

Heat-related health risks not only include physical illnesses but also impact your mental health. 

PSYCHOLOGICAL & MENTAL HEALTH IMPACT OF HEATWAVE

  • Heat-Induced Stress and Anxiety

Extreme heat can very well exacerbate conditions of stress and anxiety making an already prone individual more irritable , emotionally unstable and increase difficulty in concentrating. Sometimes, extreme heatwave conditions can also trigger hallucinations and memory loss. A few coping strategies include practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation, maintaining a steady routine and staying indoors as much as possible. 


  • Impact on Sleep

Many psychological conditions are intrinsically related to sleep and can trigger emergency situations if not managed properly. Heatwaves and excessive sweating can disrupt sleep patterns making it difficult for people to fall asleep. The increased body temperature and discomfort from the heat can prevent restorative sleep, affecting overall health.


The best way to prevent sleep disturbances is to strategically manage positioning of fans and air conditioning for maximum comfort through the night, wearing lightweight and breathable clothing, maintaining summer-friendly bedding (pure cotton) and avoiding heavy meals before bedtime that may exacerbate dehydration. 


HOME COOLING STRATEGIES DURING HEATWAVE 2024

There are various affordable ways to maintain temperatures inside your homes apart from air conditioning. 

  • Keep doors and windows open from evening to night to allow cross-ventilation. 

  • Use the Stack Effect by installing windows at both higher and lower heights allowing hot air to escape the room from the higher windows and cool air to enter the room from lower windows. 

  • Commonly practised in rural regions of India, you can also cover terraces with cold water at regular intervals for a cooling effect on top floors that are generally hotter. 


CONCLUSION

The current heatwave situation in India offering no respite calls for an early identification and mitigation of all the health risks associated with heatwaves. By staying informed and adopting preventive measures, we can protect ourselves and those around us from dangerous health concerns that may have long-lasting effects. By staying vigilant and informed, we can easily navigate the challenges posed by the heatwave 2024 not just in India but other heat zones of the world too. Stay hydrated, stay cool, and stay safe during this heatwave.


For more useful information and healthcare tips, follow Sunil Khattri & Associates and explore our blogs.

 


The Author : Dr. Sunil Khattri 

+91 9811618704


Dr. Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.

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