The temperature rises to its peak during the summer months in the UAE. The combination of high heat, high humidity, and smog can be dangerous, and may cause heat-related disorders and illnesses.
What are Heat-Related Illnesses?
In a hot and humid environment it is more difficult to regulate the body temperature. Physical work and intense exposure to hot temperatures can dramatically increase the body heat and high humidity can interfere with the body's heat-regulating mechanism. The inability to regulate the body temperature and to get rid of the body heat may result in a variety of heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Who is at Risk?
Extreme weather conditions in summer can be risky for anyone and precautions should generally be considered. However, those who are more prone to heat-related illness include:
- Elderly people.
- Infants and preschool children.
- People with certain chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung conditions or people unable to move or change position by themselves.
- People who exercise vigorously or are involved in strenuous outdoor works for prolonged periods.
- People taking certain medications.
- People who drink alcohol heavily.
- People who use illicit drugs.
Common Heat-Related Illnesses
Extreme body heat affects both mental and physical performance and may cause heat-related illness. Milder forms of heat-related illness are heat cramps and heat exhaustion. A more serious form is the severe heat stroke.
Prickly heat rash
Heat rash occurs as small spots on red skin which feel prickly or sting due to overheating. Severe forms of heat rash can influence the body's heat-regulating mechanism, resulting in fever or heat exhaustion.
Exercising or other strenuous activity in a hot environment may cause muscle cramps (painful contractions). Heavy sweating results in the loss of water and salts. If the loss of salt is not sufficiently compensated muscle cramps can occur, especially in arms, legs, or abdomen. Usually they improve with taking rest, drinking salty fluids, and moving to a cool environment.
Heat exhaustion usually occurs due to heavy exercise and excessive sweating coupled with inadequate fluid and electrolyte intake. Some of the typical symptoms indicating heat exhaustion include heavy sweating with a cool and moist skin, paleness, a fast and weak pulse, as well as rapid and shallow breathing. Headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and fainting as well as heat cramps and dark-coloured urine may also occur. Heat exhaustion can progress to a potentially life-threatening heat stroke.
Heat stroke (also known as sun stroke)
Often resulting from strenuous physical activity in high temperature environments with insufficient fluid and electrolyte intake, the heat stroke is a severe heat-related illness that can be deadly if not properly treated. Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to cool down, the sweating mechanism fails and the body's temperature rises rapidly. Common symptoms of heat stroke are a body temperature of 40 °C or higher, lack of sweating, hot and dry skin, a rapid heartbeat and difficulty in breathing. Other signs include disorientation and confusion, hallucinations and strange behaviour as well as possible delirium or coma. Heat strokes require immediate and proper medical attention.
Avoiding Heat-Related Illnesses
The risk of heat-related illnesses and disorders can be reduced if proper precautions are taken and overheating and dehydration is avoided.
- Minimise the heat and sun exposure, especially in the summer months.
- Stay in the shade as much as possible and take advantage of air conditioned or cool places.
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
- Avoid intense physical activity, especially in high temperature environments and under direct sun exposure.
- Try to rest as much as possible and get sufficient sleep at night.
- Drink plenty of liquids, like water, natural juices or sport drinks, to replace fluid lost from sweating.
- Drink even if you are not thirsty and avoid coffee, cola and alcoholic beverages.
- Eat salty meals in summer to replace salt lost in sweat, but avoid eating heavy meals.
- Wear light, loose fitting clothing which supports evaporation of sweat and avoids hyperthermia.
- Wear a hat to protect yourself from direct sun exposure.
Working in the Heat
Workers who are involved in strenuous work outdoors for prolonged periods during the summer months are among the most vulnerable to heat-related illness.