The Heat Could Get You Before You Realize It
With temperatures soaring to record heights, it is time to take stock of what you need to do to protect yourself and your loved ones from heat stroke or even heat exhaustion. Few people are so advantaged as to live in an airconditioned home, commute in an airconditioned car, and work in an air-conditioned office. For most people, it is the traveling to school, college, office, or even the local market to buy fruits, vegetables, and groceries which can become challenging as the sun beats down mercilessly.
Don’t Let the Heat Negatively Impact You
Whether you are in a region which is dry, and the mercury climbs past 42o, or a humid area where the mercury hovers around 36o; don’t let the heat negatively impact yourself or your loved ones. Remember, the elderly, those suffering from chronic diseases, and infants are especially susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In hot, humid places, you perspire so much that you think that you can’t get heat stroke. Strangely enough, you can since you risk serious dehydration, and in the debilitated condition become more susceptible to heat stroke. The humidity makes it more difficult for the body to cool naturally, and cope with the external heat as the sweat does not evaporate to release bodily heat.
Prelude to Heat Stroke
Sometimes, people just dismiss symptoms of heat exhaustion by saying, “Loo lag gayi hai.” (Got touched by the hot winds so prevalent in hot, dry climes.) Few people realize that heat exhaustion is the prelude to heat stroke. People affected by it will experience difficulty in breathing, and might even have their tongue hanging out while trying to gulp inadequate air. People also tend to dismiss extreme thirst as being simply due to the terrible heat, whereas it could signal heat exhaustion.
Don’t do this: Be wary of trying to slake unquenchable thirst with standard aerated cold drinks. They don’t help. On the contrary, they increase thirst because the soda acts as a diuretic, while the high sugar content increases thirst as it decreases the body’s ability to release heat naturally.
Rehydration Is Vital
Drink plain, cool — not cold — water, slowly. Look for things like fresh coconut water, freshly made lemon juice syrup, sugared barley water with or without lime juice, and soaked misri (sugar rock) which will not only slake thirst but will rehydrate and provide nutrition too. If you sprinkle a little black salt on lemon juice or misri syrup, it also helps stave off cramps. Perfect for cooling the body naturally and rehydrating is the green mango syrup (especially if it is freshly made from roasted green mango); desi lassi, and chhaachh (buttermilk); especially if you add black salt and powdered cumin to the buttermilk.
Other Symptoms You Should Be Alert About
Extreme weakness, nausea, vomiting, and a throbbing headache should alert you. Rapid or very slow heartbeats, diarrhea with or without stomach cramps, red hot dry skin, no perspiration despite the heat, and lightheadedness or dizziness are other symptoms to watch out for. Children might begin to sag, or display strange levels of sleepiness. So, if a child is sleeping much more than normal, first rehydrate, and then seek medical opinion. If there have been periods of sustained heat, or during a heat wave, you need to be doubly wary. If high fever is added to the symptoms, rush your patient to the nearest nursing home, healthcare facility, or hospital.
Sunburn Is Not Heat Stroke
Sunburn should not be confused with heat stroke, but it can lead to heat stroke as it prevents the sunburnt skin from cooling the body naturally through perspiration. It is literally a burn where the exposed skin is burned by the radiation from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays leading to irritation and redness, making the skin hot to the touch. The sunburnt skin will be painful and might be swollen too. While the redness should alert you to take protection; you should cover the affected area with a wet, cold towel, and drink plenty of cool water to rehydrate and cool the body naturally. Stay in the shade, and in reasonably cool conditions.
What Is Heat Stroke?
Stated simply, when your body overheats enough to damage your organs like heart, brain, kidneys, muscles, and skin, or even turn fatal; it is clinically a heat stroke. Note that it isn’t simply overheating, but that the body is unable to counter it with the natural cooling processes it normally uses, such as perspiration. Dehydration is often a prime culprit and can turn heat prostration into heat stroke. Apart from the symptoms listed above for heat exhaustion, which also double as symptoms for heat stroke, watch out for confusion, loss of muscular control, weaving while walking, slurred speech, fainting, and seizures. Allied with fever — with or without delirium — the last two are indications that the patient requires urgent medical attention; especially if the fainting has turned to coma.
You Need Not Let Heat Stroke Turn Fatal
Speed is of the essence when anybody suffers from heat stroke as doctors consider such a situation a medical emergency. The faster you respond, and have the patient on treatment, the better are your chances of saving a loved one, a colleague, or even an acquaintance. If you are far from any healthcare facility, try immersing the patient in an ice bath, or apply ice packs while waiting to reach medical care. If even ice is not readily available, remove extra clothing and footwear, and apply some wet cloth to the head, neck, armpits, and feet, while rehydrating the patient. Try and pour some cold water on the patient’s head. If fresh sugarcane juice is available, give the patient a long drink, to be sipped gradually. Alternatively, if some electrolyte-rich sports drink is available, let your patient drink it. Fan your patient to improve air circulation, and cool her/him.