Today’s impending heatwave could see the temperature reach 35C (95F) and they are predicted to be high all week. As temperatures in Britain soar above those in Rio de Janeiro, a series of seasonal ailments once again rear their ugly heads.
While the sun is out so are the health warnings.
Heatwaves can have a profound effect on the body beyond sunburn – in fact, it can be deadly. The earliest, and relatively mild, heat-related issues are:
heat cramps caused by dehydration (it’s often linked to exercise)
heat oedema (oedema can occur anywhere in the body, but it’s most common in the form of swollen feet and ankles)
The more serious problems include heat exhaustion, which develops into fatal heatstroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion are similar to being dehydrated – feeling sick, faint and sometimes shock.
Sweating is the main method your body uses to keep cool as temperatures rise. But all the time you’re sweating you’re also losing salts and water and it leads to a drop in blood pressure.
Treatment should be relatively easy at this stage – drinking plenty of water and moving to a cooler place. But things can become much worse and develop into heatstroke.
Eventually though, the body’s ability to sweat shuts down as fluid levels become dangerously low. Someone who once looked bright pink and sweaty becomes pale with hot dry skin. With no way of cooling down, core body temperature can soar above 40C (it is normally 37C).
Symptoms at this stage include confusion, disorientation, convulsions and falling into a coma and can culminate in organ failure, brain damage and death. Suspected heatstroke should always be considered a medical emergency.
The heat can also exacerbate a wide range of other health conditions. The extra strain on the heart because of changes in blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
There is even “thunderstorm asthma” as the number of attacks increases after some thunderstorms, although the reason is not entirely clear. People who struggle to control their temperatures – including babies, the elderly and those on some medications – will be affected at lower temperatures.
Healthy Performance advice of the week: how much water should you drink per day?
Adults should consume around 2.5 litres of water per day. Of this, 1.8 litres (7-8 glasses) should be obtained directly from drinks.
Remember that this amount should be increased:
when doing a manually based job
air-conditioned offices / when flying
before, during and after exercise (particularly in air-conditioned gyms!)
Benefits of good hydration:
Higher energy Levels
Greater resistance to headaches
Improved recovery from activity/exercise