It's summertime: beware of heatstroke

June 17, 2016 17:34
In the busy streets of Hong Kong, the temperature could go up as high as 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. Everyone should stay alert and beware of heatstroke. Photo: HKEJ

Since my car broke down, I have to walk for almost a kilometer from the train station to my clinic every day. It’s baking hot and pretty exhausting.

In the busy streets of Hong Kong, the temperature could go up as high as 40 degrees Celsius in the summer, and the tall buildings make the situation worse by depriving the surroundings of ventilation.

Everyone should stay alert because the extremely hot weather could bring health risks that could be life-threatening.

Heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and both need immediate medical attention.

Metabolic activities inside the body produce heat, which could be channeled through radiation or sweating.

The rate of sweat secretion and evaporation depends on the amount of one's body fluid as well as the level of outdoor temperature and humidity.

In a hot and humid weather, the body's natural mechanism of cooling itself could be hampered, and if the body fails to regulate its own temperature and it continues to rise, the result is heatstroke.

Patients might have heat exhaustion before suffering from heatstroke.

Outdoors, the danger signs include sweating heavily and feeling faint or dizzy.

If your companion is having these symptoms, bring them to a cool place where they can lie down with their legs elevated. Any unnecessary clothing should be removed.

Cool their skin with a wet towel and fan it while it's moist.

If they are conscious, let them drink water with salt, rehydration fluid or sports drink.

If untreated, patients might show early signs of heatstroke, and that is very dangerous.

Construction workers, officers in the disciplined service undergoing outdoor training or activities, those doing vigorous exercises and people walking under the sun or working in buildings with poor ventilation should pay close attention to their physical condition.

Infants and children are also more prone to the risks of heat-related illnesses, especially if they are inside a stationary vehicle where the temperature could reach 70 degrees Celsius under the sun.

Prevention is always better than cure. And to prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke, one should maintain good ventilation, stay hydrated and avoid being under direct sunlight.

People should avoid demanding physical activities under direct sunlight from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Always walk in the shade, apply sunscreen on your skin and wear light, loose-fitting clothes. Sunglasses and umbrellas should come handy as well.

Each day during summer, a person loses two liters of water on average.

As such, people should see to it that they drink a lot of water before doing any outdoor activity.

Some people drink water or sports drinks only when they are thirsty. But that's wrong because when a person feels thirsty, it means their body may already be 2 to 5 percent short of water.

Another indication of dehydration is the color of urine. When it gets much darker than usual, that may already be a warning sign.

Heat cramps could result from an electrolyte imbalance in the body. They could occur when one is working or doing exercises in a very warm environment without compensating for the loss of fluids and electrolytes in the body.

Summer is fun, but don't underestimate the harm that could result from exposure to heat and the sun. Listen closely to what your body is telling you.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 16.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The Hong Kong College of Family Physicians