August 16, 2017


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Beat the heat: Why you need to stay cool

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/7/2014 (1111 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With the temperature expected to approach 30 C today and stay relatively high for the long weekend, many Manitobans are taking notice and making plans to enjoy the heat.

That's all good -- most people have been waiting for some hot weather.

It is also important to remember too much heat can affect your health, causing everything from a mild heat rash to more serious problems such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat-related health issues occur when your body has to work too hard to cool itself. Your body is always trying to maintain a consistent temperature of 37 C. Your brain is like a thermostat, and when the weather gets hotter, your body has responses to lower your internal temperature. This includes an increase of blood flow to your skin to release heat and an increase in the amount you sweat. Overwork the system, through excessive physical activity in hot weather or by getting more sun than you are used to, and problems can arise.

During hot spells, anyone can be felled by the sweltering heat and humidity. But some people are more vulnerable than others. Young children and seniors may have less optimal body responses for staying cool. People with chronic health conditions may also not respond as well to heat. This includes those with heart conditions, chronic kidney disease or diabetes. It also includes people with mental illnesses.

Certain medications can affect the body's ability to adapt to heat. These drugs can undermine the body's ability to cool down or impair the body's ability to recognize when it is hot. They include medications used to treat seizures, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, high blood pressure, cardiac conditions (including angina and arrhythmia) and mental illnesses. If you are taking medication, ask your health-care provider or pharmacist about whether it affects your ability to cope with heat.

Athletes who train outside, outdoor workers, people living alone who are socially isolated and the homeless are also among those who are more vulnerable to heat-related illness.

Heat exhaustion is the most common affliction. It happens when your body loses too much water and salt. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, cramps, pale and clammy skin, dizziness and fainting and rapid breathing and heartbeat.

To alleviate these symptoms, try moving to a cool or shaded place, drink sips of water and lie down and sponge with cool water.

Heat stroke is more serious, and requires immediate medical attention. It occurs when the body's core temperature rises above 40 C. Symptoms may include headache, red, hot and dry skin, dizziness, confusion or strange behaviour, nausea, a rapid and weak pulse and a complete or partial loss of consciousness.

If you see someone experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately. While waiting for help, move the person to a cool place, sponge their body with cold water and fan them. The longer their core body temperature is above 40 C, the greater the chance of permanent effects or even death.

It's very important to take care of yourself and others when it's hot. Not only should you watch your children, make it a point to check on your neighbours and friends, especially older adults living alone, and those with chronic health problems.

Keep an eye on the weather. Check the local temperature and forecast, and pay attention to heat event warnings. If you have an air conditioner, be sure it's working. If you don't, go to places like the mall or community clubs during heat waves that have air conditioning. Plan outdoor activities for the cooler parts of the day, wear a hat, sunscreen and loose, light-coloured clothing when out in the sun. Sunburns also increase risk of heat-related illness.

And, of course, remember to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will replace the fluid lost when you sweat. Drink before you go outside or start to exercise, as you won't feel thirsty until after you start to dehydrate.

Dr. Heejune Chang is a medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.


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