Sunday, July 4, 2010

Beat the heat

The Gulf Today, 27 June 2010

THE hazards of living and working in the Middle East under elevated temperatures can range from simply being annoyed by the heat to a life threatening emergency, warns an expert in the related health issues during summer.
However, there are ways in which people can beat the heat effectively in order to protect themselves from the perils of exposure to the hot conditions, Dr Mohammed Motawally, a specialist medical practitioner at the Municipality Clinic in Dubai, says.
“You must take precautions to avoid heat stress, or you may be subjected to a number of heat-related health problems ranging from heat stroke to heat exhaustion, heat rash and heat cramps,” he advises.
Dr Motawally explained the process of heat generation in the body, “There are two main ways in which our bodies produce heat. The body generates heat through the digestion of food and exercise, which is called metabolic heat. The other is environment heat, in which the body absorbs heat from the surrounding environment, whether it is the hot sun or a hot room.”
In his opinion, there are three methods in which our bodies can be cooled, like ‘convention,’ a process of transfer of heat through the circulation of air. In the body’s cooling system, a radiation also happens, emitting the heat naturally from the body’s surface. An evaporation process also occurs to cool the body when a liquid changes into vapour.
“Conditions affecting the body’s cooling system include acclimation or adaptation to a new climate, which is the biological process through which our bodies adapt to the environment - basically getting used to the heat,” he noted.
According to Dr Motawally, other factors disturbing the body’s cooling system are heat in the air that flows from warmer objects, movement of the air that speeds the evaporation process, and clothing - the type of clothing that affects the amount of heat our bodies absorb and retain.
“Among the heat-related health problems, heat rash - which is also known as prickly heat - is most common. It occurs in hot, humid environments where sweat can’t easily evaporate from the skin,” he pointed out.
“This condition produces a rash which in some cases causes severe pain. The procedure to prevent or minimise the condition is to rest frequently in cool places and bath regularly [making sure one] thoroughly dries skin,” he added.
“Meanwhile, heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that result from the loss of salt and electrolytes due to excessive sweating. The cramps will usually affect the stomach, the arms and legs. This condition, which usually precedes heat exhaustion, can be treated by drinking fluids containing electrolytes such as calcium, sodium and potassium,” elaborated Dr Motawally.
He said that heat exhaustion is a state brought on by the loss of fluids during excessive sweating. Individuals with heat exhaustion still sweat, but they experience extreme weakness and may even collapse.
“The patients may experience nausea and headache. Their skin can be clammy or moist and their complexion usually becomes pale with a usually normal or slightly higher body temperature,” he explained. “This condition is best treated by taking the patient to a cool place, applying cool compresses, elevating the feet and giving the individual plenty of fluids.”
Dr Motawally pointed out that “the cases of heat stroke require severe medical emergency as the risk may lead the patient to death. It results when the body’s core temperature gets too high and the body is no longer able to cool itself.”
“An individual suffering from a heat stroke will have hot and dry skin, their pulse will be high and their blood pressure will fall. The patient may have irrational behaviour, may be in a state of confusion or may become comatose. The body’s core temperature may exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said.
“If not treated promptly, the core temperature will rise too high and death will follow,” he warned. “This condition must be treated by immediately cooling the victim’s body with water or wrapping them in cool wet sheets. The patients are advised to seek immediate medical attention.”
Dr Motawally suggested tips to prevent heat-related health hazards, which could save us from plunging into emergencies. First of all, people have to make sure they don’t stay in the sun for too long. They should also keep the following tips in mind:
Acclimation- Get accustomed to the weather prior to long durations of physical activity.
Maintain Body Fluids- Fluid intake must be maintained throughout the course of physical activity. Do not rely on thirst as an indicator of dehydration because your body loses water faster than you realise.
Alcohol should be avoided because it is a diuretic, which increases dehydration and can interfere with heat loss.
Proper Diet- Eat light and stay away from heavy foods. They increase metabolic heat production and also increase water loss.
Eat smaller, well-balanced meals more often.
Dress light- Wear light-weight and light-coloured clothing that reflects heat and sunlight, helping your body maintain normal temperatures.
Wear loose-fitting clothes such as cotton, which lets the air move over your body.
Wide brimmed hats should also be worn.
Take sufficient rest, pacing your individual work activities at a slower rate during high temperatures.
Take frequent rest periods in a shaded area and drink plenty of fluids.

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