With the current high temperatures expected to last into October this year, the island’s top doctor has given some advice on how persons can beat the heat and protect themselves and their families from heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. The Most Honourable Kenneth George, explained that while the physiology of the body was such that it could accommodate high temperatures by releasing sweat as a cooling mechanism, if temperatures rose severely, the body’s core temperature would also rise.
Once that core temperature reached above 40 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes or more, people usually start to experience heat exhaustion, which can then lead to heat stroke.
He added that the symptoms were usually minor, at first, but could “scale up” over a short period of time.
“Basically, what happens is that it is a slow and progressive failure of the body to compensate when in a prolonged situation…. Persons may experience headache, fast heart rate, feeling generally unwell, a feeling of thirst, dizziness and that may progress to fainting, if in a prolonged heat situation. And then later, the unfortunate outcome is that you start to get organ failure, wherein the body is not able to compensate anymore,” Dr. George outlined.
Fortunately, he said there were many methods people could use to prevent this from happening. They include:
- Staying hydrated. An individual requires three to three-and-a-half-litres of water per day but with the current temperatures, the Chief Medical Officer advises that persons may consume up to four to five litres of fluid daily.
- Remaining indoors when possible and avoiding outdoor activities such as exercise when the sun is at its hottest between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. It is recommended that persons exercise early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
- Wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing.
- Drinking cool water instead of ice-cold water to quench thirst.
- Avoiding sugary beverages and limiting the consumption of alcohol which worsens the symptoms of heat exhaustion by causing dehydration. Alcohol is also a diuretic and makes the kidneys pass more fluids.
He acknowledged that there were some categories of workers who could not avoid being outdoors. In this case, he recommended that they take short breaks in cool areas when exposed to the sun. Additionally, Dr. George advised persons not to over-exert themselves, which could add to the symptoms of heat exhaustion.
He also noted that special attention should be paid to certain groups such as the elderly and children, during this time.
“For children under six months, breastfeeding alone is still only recommended. You have to breastfeed much more frequently. And for the elderly, it is important that some younger folks check in on them regularly, making sure that they have access to cool water during the day,” he emphasised.
The Chief Medical Officer also offered some advice on what to do if someone is exhibiting signs of heat stress. “The treatment, in severe cases, is to bring down the core temperature of the body to an acceptable range and that needs to be done quickly. If a person has fainted outdoors, while you wait for the ambulance, all attempts should be made to cool that individual. This can be done by placing cold packs on their chest and forehead or placing a wet towel to try to bring down the temperature,” Dr. George stated.