Heatwave: Doctors reveal all you need to know about its causes, symptoms, prevention tips and how it can lead to stroke
Come summers and the blazing sun has the potential to drain our energy, make us dehydrated or fall sick with heatstroke courtesy the blazing heatwaves that make us seek an instant fix to cool off during these swampy days of summer and revive and rejuvenate our spirits. Heatwaves of over 40 degrees Celsius are hitting many parts of India and health experts warn that when the body temperature rises above 40 degrees Celsius, a life-threatening condition known as heat stroke occurs.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Harish Chafle, Senior Consultant – Pulmonology and Critical Care at Global Hospital in Parel Mumbai, shared, “Heatstroke stroke is a condition that occurs when our body temperature increases to 40 degrees Celsius or higher due to overheating. Heatstroke demands immediate medical attention since it can harm your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles if left untreated. The longer treatment is postponed, the higher the chance of major complications and death. With the harsh heat enormously increasing day by day and the weather warning for the same form past 3 days, people are getting worried as to what preventions and precautions should one take to protect themselves from adverse effects of the heatwave.”
According to Dr Sulaiman Ladhani, Consulting Chest Physician, MD Chest and Tuberculosis at Mumbai’s Masina Hospital, “The signs and symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, about forty degrees Celsius, there may be altered mental state or behaviour like confusion, slurred speech irritability and in severe cases seizures and coma can result from heat stroke. There is decreased sweating. So there’s alteration in sweating. The skin feels very hot and dry to touch and if it is brought on by strenuous exercise, the skin will feel very dry.”
He added, “There may be nausea and vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing or racing heart rate. The pulse may be significantly high because of heat. Stress is tremendous pressure on your heart to help cool your body and a throbbing headache. So if any of these symptoms are detected, immediately seek medical attention and take earliest treatment, as fast as possible.”
How can heat wave cause a stroke?
Highlighting that infants and older people are more prone to it because in infants the central nervous system is not very well developed and in the older people, they have poor adaptability to temperature control and it becomes difficult for them to maintain or regulate the body temperature effectively, Dr Sulaiman Ladhani, Consulting Chest Physician, MD Chest and Tuberculosis at Mumbai’s Masina Hospital, revealed, “If there’s a sudden change of temperature, it could lead to a heat stroke. Like if you’re traveling in an AC bus or working in a office with high or very low temperatures and then you suddenly step out and get exposed to heat, in such instances, it becomes very difficult for the body to regulate temperature and therefore it can lead to a heat stroke.”
Explaining how it can cause a stroke, “We know that 70% of our body is made up of water. So, if you are dehydrated and do not drink enough water, it becomes very difficult, for the body to regulate and when you go out in the sun, it can lead to heat stroke. So these are basically a few predisposing factors which can lead to heat stroke. Others also include people who are on certain medications, which affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and certain chronic illnesses of heart and lung disease also may increase the risk of heatstroke. Being obese, being sedentary and having a previous history of heat stroke also could be one of the predisposing factors.”
He added, “It can lead to a number of complications depending how long the body temperature has remained high. Severe complications include vital organ damage without a quick response to a lower body. Temperature, heat stroke can cause your brain or other organs to swell, possibly resulting in permanent damage and it can also lead to death in severe cases, if not treated on time.”
Advising to stay cool, Dr Harish Chafle listed some simple tips to help protect one from heat waves:
1. Wear light clothing – Wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing to avoid rashes and allergies.
2. Stay fresh indoors in AC – Try to stay around air-conditioned places as much as possible. If your home does not have air coolers, visit a shopping mall or library which has AC or coolers which will help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
3. Cold and fresh showers – Keep in mind that electric fans are comfortable and might give you relief during normal days, but when the temperature goes really high, electric fans won`t prevent heat-related illness. Taking cold and fresh shower two times a day or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Use your induction oven and gas oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.
4. Avoid outdoor activities – Try avoiding going for your outdoor activity during major heat like afternoons. Try to finish your errands when it’s coolest, like morning and evening hours. Rest often in shady areas so that your body has a chance to recover.
5. Cool yourself – Avoid doing heavy exercise during the heat for long hours. If you’re not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Try to be in a cool area or in a sun covered shelter, and rest, especially if you feel weak, or faint.
6. Wear sunscreen/ SPF – To protect yourself from the sun wear SPF. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool down and it can make you dehydrated. If you’re going outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions. Look for sunscreens that say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels- these products work best.
Echoing the same, Dr Sulaiman Ladhani asserted that the best way is prevention and to prevent heat stroke, he suggested that when you are out in the sun, try and stand in areas with shades like under a tree or try to avoid stepping out of your house at peak hours during summers. He advised, “It is important to understand that we must stay hydrated. So it’s very important to have enough water or juice, whether the body have enough fluid to function properly. Avoid traveling over long distances in peak hours, try to avoid eating outside food, especially heavy meals at one time, try to take small frequent meals, avoid drinking beverages like tea or coffee, in excess carbonated drinks and most importantly alcohol should be avoided try to wear loose and light fitted clothes, protect yourself against sunburn apply sunscreen to your skin, use sunglasses and cap whenever possible.”
Stressing that the infants and elderly people should especially be taken care of, Dr Sulaiman Ladhani said, “It is better to let them stay at home and not get exposed to the heat outside. Try to take shower twice daily. Avoid taking the medicines which can add more heat to your body Avoid exercising in the sun that may cause more heat and sweat in your body. Instead, you may stay indoors and exercise at your own place.”