5 Illnesses Caused by Heat That You Should Know About
As the month of May ends, cities across Pakistan continue to suffer from an intense heatwave, with temperatures in Lahore reaching above 40 degrees Celsius almost every day. Hospitals have reported an uptick in heat stroke victims, and recently the Pakistan army has set up heat stroke relief centers across the country.
Heat stroke may be the most commonly known illness when it comes to hot weather, but there are many other kinds of heat related illnesses to look out for first, ranging from dehydration to heat rashes to heat exhaustion. To prevent these heat related illnesses, it is important to know what they are and what symptoms to look out for.
Below is a list of 5 common heat-related illnesses we should know about, and how to make sure we can treat them.
- Heat rash
Heat rash is one of the mild but common illnesses associated with hot weather. Often caused by excessive sweating, it is characterized as a skin irritation that often forms in areas where sweat gets trapped via clothing, such as the chest, armpits, elbows and groin. It can be uncomfortable and unsightly.
To prevent heat rash, one should:
- Stay away from humid and hot conditions
- Try to prevent excessive sweating through applying deodorant and prickly-heat/talcum powder
- Avoid excessive use of creams and lotions
Often the first symptom of being overheated, dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it is replacing, leading to the body being unable to function at the proper capacity. Mild symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, less frequent urination of a darker yellow colour, dizziness and fatigue. More severe dehydration can lead to mental confusion, fever, and possible need for hospitalization.
To prevent dehydration, one should:
- Drink plenty of fluids and have fruits such as watermelon, melon, cucumber, etc., with high fluid content
- Avoid staying in extremely hot areas that lead to excessive sweating
- If dehydration occurs, drink Oral Rehydration fluids which provide electrolytes
- Heat Cramps
One of the mildest forms of heat-related illness, heat cramps are muscle-related spasms or jerks that usually occur when working/exercising in a hot area where you have to exert energy. These cramps are painful but usually short and go away on their own.
To prevent heat cramps, one should:
- Be aware of when you need to work in a hot place, and hydrate yourself beforehand as well as while you are there
- Make sure there is a nearby cool area and access to oral rehydration liquids like ORS or Gatorade in case you begin to feel symptoms of cramping
- Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion occurs after the body is dehydrated and lacks electrolytes, and is unable to cool itself properly. It occurs after being in extreme heat and excessive sweating. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, dizziness, excessive sweating, and an elevated body temperature. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
To prevent heat exhaustion, one should:
- When in hot environments, make sure to wear loose fitting, lightweight clothing which allows your body to regulate its temperature easily
- Stay hydrated by drinking fluids
- Avoid exertion and prolonged exposure to hot environments
- Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is the most common term used when it comes to heat-related illnesses — however, not everyone knows exactly what this illness is. The most severe of heat related illnesses, heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to control its temperature at all. Symptoms include a very high body temperature, failure to sweat to regulate temperature, confusion and disorientation, seizures and unconsciousness.
To prevent heat stroke, one should:
- Stay hydrated
- Protect yourself from direct sunlight by wearing an umbrella or a cap.
- Wear loose, lightweight clothing and dampen the skin to allow the body to cool itself properly
- If you start to suffer heat cramps or heat exhaustion, get to a cooler, shaded spot right away and, if the situation doesn’t improve, call emergency services before you get heat stroke.
If any of the above illnesses’ symptoms worsen, get to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. By knowing how our bodies respond to heat, we can keep track of our wellbeing as well as others. Stay hydrated and stay safe!
Written by: Mashal Nadeem – Project Analyst at SIHS