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The effects of extreme heat

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is very serious and can be fatal. It occurs when the body’s thermal regulating mechanism no longer functions; consequently, the body’s temperature increases to a very dangerous level. The person feels ill and has a high temperature. Several symptoms can indicate an attack of heat stroke: serious neurological disorders (loss of consciousness, convulsions…), cardiovascular difficulties, skin reactions (burning sensation in the skin, dry throat and tongue) digestive trouble (nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea).

Heat stroke traditionally occurs without exerting any physical effort – during a summer heat wave or in situations that are abnormally hot. It usually affects either very young children or elderly adults.  It must be distinguished from physically-induced hyperthermia, which often affects marathon runners or military personnel who have demonstrated intense and prolonged physical effort in hot, humid conditions. Heat stroke indications are irregular, and can include cramps or other anomalies after being exposed for long periods to very high temperatures. Usually, heat stroke can be treated successfully but it requires fast emergency medical care. The victim must be cooled down and rehydrated immediately. Get the victim in the shade, give him/her cold drinks, remove their clothing and cover them in a wet sheet. Fan them frequently and contact the fire department or the ambulance company immediately. 

Preventing heat stroke or other heat-related discomfort

To avoid heat stroke, follow these recommendations: 

  • Never leave a child or an elderly person alone in an automobile or in a poorly ventilated space, not even for a few minutes. 

  • As much as possible, equip rooms with ventilators and air conditioners. 

  • When you travel, be sure you have a sufficient quantity of fresh bottled water on hand. 

  • Don’t hesitate to unclothe babies and infants and increase the number of baths you give them. The water temperature should be a few degrees lower than the body temperature. Encourage elderly people to sponge themselves using a cool, damp washcloth. 

  • Drink lots of fluids and even if they don’t ask, regularly propose cool drinks to young children and elderly people in addition to their regular diet. If necessary, help them to drink.

  • Avoid the high sun from 12 – 4pm and limit your physical efforts. 

  • Cut back on cigarettes, alcohol and sugary drinks, or drinks high in caffeine. 

  • Wear light, loose-fitting linen or cotton clothing, preferably in light colours. Protect your head with a sun hat and wear sunglasses with a high protection factor.  

  • Frequently apply sun cream, or sun block out (particularly if you are fair-skinned) on all body parts exposed to the sun. 

  • When on holiday, take the time to acclimate to your surroundings. Avoid becoming overly tired in the first 48 hours after your arrival. 

  • Avoid manipulating toxic substances (solvents and sprays). 

  • If you experience any discomfort, headaches, feelings of weakness, dizziness or fever, immediately rest and drink lots of fluids. If the symptoms persist, consult a physician. 

  • People with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular diseases should continue their current treatments and immediately contact a doctor should any abnormal symptoms arise. 

  • If you have any problem while travelling, don’t wait until you get home to consult a doctor. The regulating doctor of your assistance company is available to discuss any questions or doubts you may have about your health. He/she can provide useful advice, contact your family doctor and organize a consultation wherever you are.

Beware of heat waves!

Wherever you are, summer heat waves can cause serious health issues, particularly for babies, infants and the elderly who are more vulnerable to the risks of dehydration and sunburn. Take the precautionary measures mentioned above as soon as the thermometer begins to climb.