Surviving the Summer Swelter!

As we come to the end of another year summer is fast approaching. For most of us we see this as an opportunity to spend more time outside with long periods at the beach, park or even just in our backyards. However for all of us, and in particular the elderly or children this also increases the risk of heat related illness.

What is a heat related illness?

Heat stress occurs when the body cannot cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature. Heat-related illnesses include heat rash, heat cramps, dizziness or fainting, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and a worsening of existing medical conditions.[1]

Who is most at risk?

Although the heat can effect anyone, some groups of people are more susceptible than others:

  • People over 65 years, particularly those living alone or without air conditioning
  • Babies and young children
  • Pregnant and nursing mothers
  • People who are physically unwell, especially with heart disease, high blood pressure or lung disease.
  • People on some medications, in particular medications for mental illness.

The elderly are more likely to become victim to heat stress because their body may not adjust well to sudden or prolonged temperature changes. They are also more likely to have a chronic medical condition and be taking medication that may interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Recognising symptoms of heat-related illness

It is important to know the signs and symptoms of heat exposure and how you should respond. Symptoms vary according to the type of heat-related illness. Babies and young children may show signs of restlessness or irritability and have fewer wet nappies. Older people may become lightheaded, confused, weak or faint. Deterioration in existing medical conditions – this is the most common health problem of heat stress

Some heat-related illness and common symptoms include:

  • Heat rash – sometimes called ‘prickly heat’, this is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating.
  • Heat cramps – these include muscle pains or spasms, usually in the abdomen, arms or legs.
  • Dizziness and fainting – heat-related dizziness and fainting results from reduced blood flow to the brain. Heat causes an increase in blood flow to the skin and pooling of blood in the legs, which can lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure. There can be a feeling of light-headedness before fainting occurs.
  • Heat exhaustion – Warning signs may include paleness and sweating, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting, dizziness or fainting.
  • Heat strokethis is a medical emergency and requires urgent attention - Call 000. Heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature rises above 40.5C and the body’s internal systems start to shut down. Many organs in the body suffer damage and the body temperature must be reduced quickly. Most people will have profound central nervous system changes such as delirium, coma and seizures. The person may stagger, appear confused, have a fit or collapse and become unconscious. As well as effects on the nervous system, there can be liver, kidney, muscle and heart damage.

The symptoms of heat stroke may be the same as for heat exhaustion, but the skin may be dry with no sweating and the person’s mental condition worsens.

In any of the above situations please ensure that the person is taken out of the sun & into a cooler area & that medical advice is sought immediately.

I can’t avoid summer – so what can I do?

Prevention is the best way to manage heat-related illness. Some tips to prevent heat stress include:

  • Keep up your fluids – the hotter the weather the more you need to drink, regardless of how active you are. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink. Carry around a water bottle & avoid limit alcohol.
  • Avoid exposure to heat – stay out of the sun.
  • Protect yourself outside – if you are outdoors, remember to protect yourself from the sun with a 50+ sunscreen. Your Community Pharmacy Pharmacist or team member can recommend one that is best for you & your family. Cover exposed skin with lightweight clothes, wear a hat and sun glasses.
  • Limit physical activity – too much physical activity on a hot day can lead to heat stress.
  • Don’t leave children or pets in cars – even on cool days, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. Children or pets that are left unattended in parked cars for even a few minutes are at risk of serious heat-related illnesses and possibly death. Never leave children or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are left open a fraction.
  • Stay cool – and keep air circulating around you. Use air conditioning if possible. (If you don’t have air conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping centre or public library.) Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath.
  • Keep up your energy levels – eat regular, light meals.
  • Watch out for others – check on older, sick or frail people who may need help coping with the heat.

The team at Community Pharmacy want to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable summer. Please feel free to drop in and discuss your travel needs, sun protection & medication management to get you through the holiday season.


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