Current heat spell can cause heat stroke, says health expert

HYDERABAD - The current spell of scorching heat not only increased incidence of dehydration and food poisoning, but also brought many people down with heatstroke, the most severe form of heat related illness.

Talking to the media here on Friday, eminent physician and senior medical officer Dr Ashfaq Qureshi said that heatstroke is the severe injury from high body temperature that causes damage to many organs, particularly the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.

He said that heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency and without proper care the victims of heatstroke could die.

The people who have exertion heatstroke are usually those who exercise in excessively warm conditions and their bodies cannot manage the stress of the physical activity and the hot environment together, he added.

Dr Ashfaq Qureshi said that the elderly people are more vulnerable to the heat because, as the body ages, it is less able to handle heat and cool itself off. The red, flushed skin, fever (body temperature of 106 degrees or higher), seizures, headache, rapid pulse and unconsciousness are some of the most common symptoms of heatstroke.

During a heatstroke, the human body is unable to properly cool itself off. When it is unable to cool itself off, the core body temperature rises rapidly and the brain begins to fail, he added.

The main focus of treatment is to lower the body temperature and different techniques can be used, he said, adding that heatstroke, like all heat-related illnesses, is preventable and some of the ways to prevent heatstroke are staying well hydrated, wearing cool clothes and keeping cool.

He said that prevention is essential to avoid heat exhaustion by not engaging in strenuous activity in hot, humid environments. People who are not used to heat should be careful. People in supervisory positions such as coaches, trainers and lifeguards should be trained to specifically recognise signs of heat illness and other kinds of preventive measures to take, he added.

He said that some precautions are necessary including staying in cool or air-conditioned spaces when possible on hot days and drink more fluids than usual.

Drinking enough fluids during exercise helps to improve heart function, maintain kidney function and lower the body's core temperature.

He said that dehydration can stress the heart and reduce the kidneys' ability to maintain the correct balance of electrolytes charged elements such as potassium, sodium, phosphorous and chloride and essential for the normal function of every cell in the body.

He further said that the primary treatment for heat exhaustion is to rest in a cool environment (a shady spot or, better, an air-conditioned room) and to drink cool fluids. Water is usually enough to reverse dehydration, or one can drink a sports drink containing electrolytes. You can also cool down by spraying yourself with water and fanning. He said that prevention and protection from heatstroke is quite easy and the important thing to remember is that heatstroke can be caused by rapid dehydration because the body needs water to cool down.

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