How To Cope And Stay Safe In Extreme Heat

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By Tonny Ingutia

During extreme heat it is easy to become dehydrated or for your body to overheat. If this happens, you may develop heat cramps, heat exhaustion or even heatstroke. Heatstroke is a medical emergency which can result in permanent damage to your vital organs, or even death, if not treated immediately. Extreme heat can also make existing medical conditions worse.

People at risk from extreme heat

Hot weather can affect anyone, including the young and healthy. However, some people are more at risk than others.

People most at risk:

  • with medical condition such as heart diseasediabeteskidney disease or mental illness
  • Aged over 65 years, especially those living alone
  • living with a cognitive impairment that reduces their ability to communicate their discomfort and needs
  • are overweight or obese
  • have recently arrived from cooler climates.
  • pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers
  • work or exercise outdoors
  • those taking certain medications that may affect the way the body reacts to heat as a side effect. This includes but is not limited to, medication that is used to treat allergies, blood pressure, heart conditions, seizure disorders and mental health conditions. Speak to your doctor to discuss this.

Coping with the heat

During extreme heat, whether it’s one hot day or a heatwave, remember:

*Keep yourself cool by using damp towels containing ice, putting your feet in cool water and taking cool (not cold) showers

*Drink water, to stay adequately hydrated (if your doctor normally limits your fluids, check with your doctor how much to drink during hot weather)

*If you don’t have air conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping centre or public library

*Open the windows when there is a cool breeze, the outside temperature is cooler than inside, and if it is safe to do so

*Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. If you do have to go outside, wear a hat and sunscreen, and seek shade

*Cancel or postpone outings. If you absolutely must go out, stay in the shade and take plenty of water with you

*Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibres like cotton and linen

*Eat smaller meals more often and cold meals such as salads

*Make sure food that needs refrigeration is properly stored

*Allow yourself plenty of time to rest and avoid heavy activity like sport, renovating and gardening

Older people and hot weather

The heat may affect older people more than others. People aged 65 years and over may be at increased risk of heat-related illnesses.

Factors that can increase a person’s risk include living alone, chronic medical problems and certain medications.

Children and hot weather

Babies and young children should be watched carefully during hot weather as their body temperature rises much faster than adults. They need to drink regularly, wear light clothing and be kept cool.

Never leave babies or young children in cars.The temperature inside parked cars can double within minutes.

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Active people and hot weather

Heat and sport or physical activity (exercise) can be a dangerous combination.

You can prevent heat-related illness during sport by drinking plenty of fluids, taking frequent rest breaks and avoiding exercise during the hottest part of the day.

How you can help others

In extreme heat, check on and help other people who may be at a higher risk of heat-related illness:

  • Keep in touch with sick or frail friends and family, especially if they are living alone.
  • Call them at least once on any extreme heat day.
  • Encourage them to drink water.
  • Offer to help family, friends and neighbours who are aged over 65 or have an illness by doing shopping or other errands so they can avoid the heat. Consider taking them somewhere cool for the day (e.g., a shopping centre, a cinema, a library) or have them stay the night if they are unable to stay cool in their home.
  • If you observe symptoms of heat-related illness, seek medical help.

Prepare for extreme heat

You can prepare for extreme heat:

  • Stock up on food, water and medicines so you don’t have to go out in the heat. Make sure they can be stored in the appropriate temperature.
  • Visit your doctor to check if changes are needed to your medicines during extreme heat.
  • Check that your fan or air-conditioner works well. Have your air-conditioner serviced if necessary.
  • Look at the things you can do to make your home cooler such as installing window coverings, shade cloths or external blinds on the sides of the house facing the sun, and planting trees to provide shade around the house.

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