As we come to the end of another year summer is fast approaching. For most
of us we see this as an opportunity to spend more time outside with long
periods at the beach, park or even just in our backyards. However for all of
us, and in particular the elderly or children this also increases the risk of
heat related illness.
What is a heat related illness?
Heat stress occurs when the body cannot cool itself enough to maintain a
healthy temperature. Heat-related illnesses include heat rash, heat cramps,
dizziness or fainting, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and a worsening of
existing medical conditions.
Who is most at risk?
Although the heat can effect anyone, some groups of people are more
susceptible than others:
- People over 65 years, particularly those living alone or without air
- Babies and young children
- Pregnant and nursing mothers
- People who are physically unwell, especially with heart disease, high
blood pressure or lung disease.
- People on some medications, in particular medications for mental illness.
The elderly are more likely to become victim to heat stress because their
body may not adjust well to sudden or prolonged temperature changes. They are
also more likely to have a chronic medical condition and be taking medication
that may interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
Recognising symptoms of heat-related illness
It is important to know the signs and symptoms of heat exposure and how you
should respond. Symptoms vary according to the type of heat-related illness.
Babies and young children may show signs of restlessness or irritability and
have fewer wet nappies. Older people may become lightheaded, confused, weak or
faint. Deterioration in existing medical conditions – this is the most common
health problem of heat stress
Some heat-related illness and common symptoms include:
- Heat rash – sometimes called ‘prickly heat’, this is a skin
irritation caused by excessive sweating.
- Heat cramps – these include muscle pains or spasms, usually in
the abdomen, arms or legs.
- Dizziness and fainting – heat-related dizziness and fainting
results from reduced blood flow to the brain. Heat causes an increase in
blood flow to the skin and pooling of blood in the legs, which can lead to
a sudden drop in blood pressure. There can be a feeling of light-headedness
before fainting occurs.
- Heat exhaustion – Warning signs may include paleness and
sweating, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting,
dizziness or fainting.
- Heat stroke – this is a medical emergency and requires urgent
attention - Call 000. Heat stroke occurs when the core body
temperature rises above 40.5C and the body’s internal systems start to shut
down. Many organs in the body suffer damage and the body temperature must
be reduced quickly. Most people will have profound central nervous system
changes such as delirium, coma and seizures. The person may stagger, appear
confused, have a fit or collapse and become unconscious. As well as effects
on the nervous system, there can be liver, kidney, muscle and heart damage.
The symptoms of heat stroke may be the same as for heat exhaustion, but the
skin may be dry with no sweating and the person’s mental condition worsens.
In any of the above situations please ensure that the person is taken out of
the sun & into a cooler area & that medical advice is sought
I can’t avoid summer – so what can I do?
Prevention is the best way to manage heat-related illness. Some tips to prevent
heat stress include:
- Keep up your fluids – the hotter the weather the more you need
to drink, regardless of how active you are. Do not wait until you are
thirsty to drink. Carry around a water bottle & avoid limit
- Avoid exposure to heat – stay out of the sun.
- Protect yourself outside – if you are outdoors, remember
to protect yourself from the sun with a 50+ sunscreen. Your Community
Pharmacy Pharmacist or team member can recommend one that is best for you
& your family. Cover exposed skin with lightweight clothes, wear a hat
and sun glasses.
- Limit physical activity – too much physical activity on a hot
day can lead to heat stress.
- Don’t leave children or pets in cars – even on cool days, cars
can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. Children or pets that
are left unattended in parked cars for even a few minutes are at risk of
serious heat-related illnesses and possibly death. Never leave children or
pets in a parked car, even if the windows are left open a fraction.
- Stay cool – and keep air circulating around you. Use air
conditioning if possible. (If you don’t have air conditioning, consider
visiting an air-conditioned shopping centre or public library.) Take a cool
shower, bath or sponge bath.
- Keep up your energy levels – eat regular, light meals.
- Watch out for others – check on older, sick or frail people who
may need help coping with the heat.
The team at Community Pharmacy want to ensure that you have a safe and
enjoyable summer. Please feel free to drop in and discuss your travel needs,
sun protection & medication management to get you through the holiday