Wednesday June 19, 2024

Severe heat spell hitting population hard

By Muhammad Qasim
May 27, 2024
This image showing people covering their heads with wet towel during a heatwave.  — AFP/File
This image showing people covering their heads with wet towel during a heatwave. — AFP/File

Rawalpindi:A severe heat wave that is hitting most parts of the country including the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi has caused a significant increase in the number of adult as well as child patients with heat related health threats including minor heat related illnesses such as heat edema, heat rash (prickly heat), heat cramps and tetany along with severe heat related complications like heat exhaustion, heat syncope and heat stroke.

The severe heat spell is expected to prevail almost all across the country for another two weeks and according to health experts, if people do not take extra care, both the public and private sector healthcare facilities would be receiving a much heavier burden of patients with heat-related disorders. The public sector hospitals in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi including the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad and allied hospitals in town have already started receiving a significant number of patients with heat-related illnesses.

Health experts say that the heat-related illnesses are more damaging mainly because of ignorance among the public on various aspects of the illnesses and preventive measures needed to avoid these. Heat stroke, heat syncope, and heat exhaustion are life-threatening health hazards, particularly in cases of chronic patients, elderly people, and children. Experts believe that by creating sufficient awareness among public on key signs and symptoms of heat-related disorders, the burden of patients with heat-related illnesses can be minimized to a significant level.

People should be aware of the fact that heat stroke considered as the most serious heat injury, results from failure of heat regulating mechanism and it is characterized by very high body temperature which may rise up to 105.1 Fahrenheit or 40.6 degree centigrade with profound disturbances including convulsions, coma, dry hot skin, with no sweating or sometimes excessive sweating. It can be fatal even if the patient is taken quickly to a hospital. The treatment of heat stroke consists of rapidly cooling of the body in ice water bath till the temperature falls below 38.9 degree centigrade.

Studies reveal that high body temperature caused by a fever is different from high body temperature because of exposure to extreme heat as the fever is the body’s reaction to some infection while heat related illness causes high body temperature when the body can not transfer heat effectively or when external heat gain is excessive.

Heat syncope (fainting) occurs due to lowering of blood pressure because heat causes blood vessels to expand or dilate in result of which the body fluids move into the legs because of gravity. In this condition, less blood goes to the heart and less amount of blood goes to the brain. Treatment of syncope is simple. The patient is made to lie in the shade with the head slightly down. Experts say that the patient recovers usually within five to 10 minutes. The warning signs of heat exhaustion include impaired consciousness, prolonged durations of sleep, restlessness and irritability, thunderclap head­ache, blurring of vision, tremors and fits and scanty dark urine in decreased quantity. People should avoid going outside particularly during the hottest hours of the day from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.

To avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke, lightweight, light-coloured and loose-fitting clothes should be put on and black, dark green, red and blue coloured clothes should be avoided. Direct exposure to sun should be avoided and a hat or umbrella should be used for protection from sun while outside.

Studies reveal that in many cases of prolonged exposure to intense heat, blood cells burst causing massive bleeding. Also there are chances of ceasing of the cardiac activity at high temperatures while the consistently high temperature in environment may cause stiffness of muscles bringing them into a contracted state. Heat rash occurs when the sweat ducts to the skin become blocked or swell while heat cramps is due to doing heavy muscular work in high temperature and humidity in which a patient feels pain in muscles. Cause of heat cramps is loss of sodium and chloride in the blood. Experts say that by taking sufficient fluids and avoiding high temperature for longer periods of time, the condition can be avoided.