Heat stroke: Recognizing the dangers of sun exposure

Ingy Deif, Tuesday 8 Aug 2023

Ahram Online sheds light on the current unprecedented heatwave and the potential health risks, including the danger of heat strokes.



The rising concerns regarding health risks associated with record-breaking heatwaves across the globe have drawn attention, particularly for vulnerable populations like children and the elderly. 

Understanding the danger

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that global warming has contributed to hotter temperatures in July for four out of five individuals worldwide, impacting over 2 billion people who experience daily heightened warmth due to climate change.

These prolonged heatwaves, largely attributed to human-driven climate change, can exert severe strain on the human body, leading to severe dehydration, heatstroke, and even fatality. Heatstroke and sunstroke are interchangeable terms that refer to a condition where the body can no longer maintain a temperature below 40 degrees Celsius when exposed to hot weather. Warning symptoms typically precede heatstroke, although sometimes individuals fail to pay attention or are unable to take action, as stated in the Harvard Health Journal.

Local alerts

Recognizing the urgency of the issue, the Ministry of Health and Population (MoP) has taken proactive measures in late July and early August. Dr. Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, spokesperson for the ministry, announced the distribution of informative leaflets to affiliated healthcare institutions in various governorates. These leaflets outline the necessary procedures for hospitals to raise health awareness and effectively manage cases of heat and sunstroke.

Dr. Abdel Ghaffar emphasizes the ministry's commitment to conducting awareness campaigns and providing general advice to citizens on minimizing exposure to high temperatures and taking appropriate measures in the event of heat stress and sunstroke. The ministry has provided treatment protocols for hospitals, including preparedness to receive affected individuals and the provision of essential supplies such as fever-reducing medications, syrups, tablets, and intravenous fluids.

Signs and remedies

Dr. Ahmed Ashour, a specialist in internal medicine, highlights the extreme dangers posed by rising temperatures and the importance of monitoring specific symptoms. As temperatures rise, the body's natural response is to maintain its normal temperature of around 37 degrees Celsius. The heart beats faster, sweat is produced to cool the skin's surface, and blood vessels dilate to release heat. However, if these temperature-regulating mechanisms are overwhelmed, individuals may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, fever, disrupted sleep, and dehydration, which is an early warning sign when the body loses more fluids than it takes in. Heatstroke, the most severe heat-related illness, occurs when the body's temperature rises above 40 degrees Celsius, and its natural cooling mechanisms fail.

Humidity during heatwaves can further complicate matters by inhibiting the body's cooling process through sweat evaporation from the skin. The WHO has identified the elderly, individuals with pre-existing health conditions, and young children, particularly those under five, as the most vulnerable groups during heatwaves. Aging reduces the body's capacity to control temperature due to a decrease in the number of sweat glands, and certain medications, such as diuretics, can exacerbate health issues during heatwaves.

To mitigate the effects of heatwaves, individuals are advised to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and seek ways to stay cool. Health authorities in Egypt have issued warnings regarding the symptoms of sunstroke and heat exhaustion, including high body temperature, flushed skin, dryness, eye irritation, general fatigue accompanied by headaches and muscle cramps, dizziness, and vomiting.

The WHO recommends seeking immediate medical attention if any of these symptoms persist, moving to a cool area as soon as possible, measuring body temperature, rehydrating with water or fruit juice, and resting in a cool place if painful muscular spasms occur, particularly in the legs, arms, or abdomen. Medical assistance should be sought if heat cramps persist for more than one hour.

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