While the barometer hasn’t touched 40 degrees Celcius in Delhi, the sudden spike temperature over the past week has caught many people off guard. The result is people reporting dehydration, heat cramp and heat stress, which leave them feeling exhausted, nauseous and feverish.
The first days of a heat wave are the worst, as the body has had little time to acclimatise to the high temperature. Acclimatisation to extreme heat usually takes four days to a week, so dealing with rising temperature in the first week the most critical.
“It’s not warm enough for heat stroke, but people are showing up with heat cramps and dehydration, especially those who spend more time outdoors and sweat excessively,” says Dr Srikant Sharma, senior consultant, department of medicine, Moolchand Hospital.
Children, elderly, people who drink alcohol, dieters, people on anti-psychotic drugs, diuretics, or those who live or work in poorly-ventilated places are at more risk, so they should take care to take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.
“SGLT-blockers used to treat diabetes leads to water loss, which can precipitate heat exhaustion, so diabetics on this medication and those with fluctuating blood sugars must avoid excess heat, have plenty of water and ensure they stay in ventilated surroundings,” says Dr Ashok Kumar Jhingan, chairman, Delhi Diabetic Research Centre.
Apart from avoiding heat exposure and drinking lots of fluids to stay hydrated, you have to stay smart by watching out for the early warning signs of the major symptoms.
Heat exhaustion: Feeling of weakness, anxiety, fatigue, thirst, dizziness, headache, nausea, clammy skin and vomiting. Advanced symptoms include shallow breathing, muscular jerks, agitation, impaired judgement and confusion may follow collapse.
It’s the most common heat syndrome and occurs when the heart cannot take the load it faces due to increased water loss through sweating. “Heat collapse occurs in both physically active and sedentary people, and may occur while driving, so you must make sure you drink water before going out for a long drive, especially if your car is not air-conditioned,” says Dr Jhingan.
Treatment: Make the affected person lie down in a cool, airy place and give them sip water and salt. If at home, make them take a cold shower to bring down body temperature.
Heat Cramps: Brief but severe cramps in the muscles following intense exercise, such as running or swimming. Make sure you drink a couple of glasses of water half an hour before a dip and before and after exercising. Also, if the pool is outdoors, swim in the morning and evenings only. “Drinking plain water is not enough as the salts that body loses through sweating are not replenished. I recommend salted lime juice or coconut water,” says Dr Sharma.
Treatment: Rest in a cool place, salt and water replacement.
External heat injury: Headache, gooseflesh, vomiting, muscle cramps and collapse, which usually occur in people who are physically active in the heat.
Treatment: Cover the person with wet sheets to lower body temperature to 38° as quickly as possible. Massaging extremities to improve blood flow and give intravenous fluids.
Heat stroke: Symptoms of fever, hot and dry skin, rapid pulse rate, and flaccid muscles. Warning symptoms include headache, dizziness, faintness, abdominal pain, cramps confusion, loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, a person may go into shock with diffuse bleeding, liver damage, renal failure and eventual death.
Treatment: It is a medical emergency. Get the affected person to a hospital at once.