Severe heatwave grips Delhi: 5 things that can happen to the body when temperature soars above 45 degrees | Health - Hindustan Times
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Severe heatwave grips Delhi: 5 things that can happen to the body when temperature soars above 45 degrees

By, New Delhi
May 21, 2024 10:13 AM IST

Heatwave takes hold across North India as mercury soared to 45 degrees and more. IMD issued a red alert for Sunday as the city sizzled under severe heatwave.

As intense heatwave gripped Delhi and other parts of North India with temperatures touching 45-47 degrees in some places, it's important to take steps to prevent heat exposure and avoid heatstroke, dehydration and other heat-based illnesses. High temperatures can play havoc with the body and damage brain, heart, kidney and cause other long-term issues. Stepping outdoors at peak heat hours must be avoided at all costs and hydrating yourself well with water, fruits, vegetables, buttermilk, nimbu paani, coconut water is crucial. (Also read | Heatwave foods: 7 summer-friendly foods to beat the heat and nourish the body)

At 45 degrees and more, body's natural ability to regulate temperature may go for a toss and this may lead to conditions like heat stroke where people may suffer from fever, confusion, dizziness or seizure.(Adobe Stock)
At 45 degrees and more, body's natural ability to regulate temperature may go for a toss and this may lead to conditions like heat stroke where people may suffer from fever, confusion, dizziness or seizure.(Adobe Stock)

At 45 degrees and more, body's natural ability to regulate temperature may go for a toss and this may lead to conditions like heat stroke where people may suffer from fever, confusion, dizziness or seizure. Exposure to intense heat for a longer duration can even damage brain, heart and other crucial organs. It can even be fatal if adequate steps to cool down the body are not taken.

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Dr Tushar Tayal, Consultant, Internal Medicine, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram, says exposure to environmental temperatures above 45°C (113°F) can have serious and potentially life-threatening effects on the human body.

At such high temperatures, the body's ability to regulate its internal temperature can be overwhelmed, leading to heat stroke. Symptoms include a high body temperature (above 40°C or 104°F), confusion, loss of consciousness, and sometimes seizures. Without immediate medical intervention, heat stroke can have deadly implications. The body loses fluids rapidly through sweating in an attempt to cool down, leading to severe dehydration. This can cause symptoms like extreme thirst, dry mouth, reduced urine output, and in severe cases, confusion, dizziness, and fainting," says the expert.

Worrying side effects of heatwave

Dr Tayal shares other side effects of exposure to severe heatwave:

Damage to brain and heart: Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can cause the body temperature to rise dangerously high, resulting in hyperthermia. This condition can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles, leading to long-term health issues or death if not promptly treated.

Heat exhaustion: A milder form of heat-related illness, heat exhaustion, can occur with prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, and muscle cramps. If not addressed, it can progress to heat stroke.

Skin damage: High temperatures, especially when combined with strong sunlight, can cause severe skin damage, including sunburn and in extreme cases, second-degree burns. Prolonged exposure can also increase the risk of skin cancer over time due to UV radiation.

Dr Surinder Kumar, General Physician, MBBS, New Delhi lists five significant health effects that can occur when temperatures soar above 45 degrees:

1. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

When the body is exposed to high temperatures for extended periods, it struggles to maintain its normal temperature. This can lead to heat exhaustion, characterized by symptoms such as heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and headaches. If not treated promptly, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition where the body's temperature regulation fails. Symptoms of heat stroke include a high body temperature (above 40 degrees Celsius), confusion, rapid pulse, and loss of consciousness. Immediate medical attention is crucial to prevent serious complications or death.

2. Dehydration

In extreme heat, the body loses water rapidly through sweat in an attempt to cool down. Without adequate fluid intake, this can lead to dehydration. Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in, resulting in a deficit that impairs normal bodily functions. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, dark urine, reduced urination, fatigue, and dizziness. Severe dehydration can cause kidney damage, electrolyte imbalances, and shock.

3. Cardiovascular stress

High temperatures place extra stress on the cardiovascular system. To dissipate heat, blood vessels dilate (expand), and the heart pumps more vigorously to increase blood flow to the skin's surface. This added workload can exacerbate existing heart conditions and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Individuals with cardiovascular diseases, the elderly, and those with hypertension are particularly vulnerable during extreme heat events.

4. Respiratory problems

Elevated temperatures can worsen air quality by increasing the concentration of ground-level ozone and other pollutants. Poor air quality, combined with the heat, can irritate the respiratory system and aggravate conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Heat also promotes the spread of allergens and particulate matter, further impacting respiratory health.

5. Heat rash and skin problems

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures and sweating can cause heat rash, a condition where sweat ducts become blocked and swell, leading to discomfort and itchy red bumps on the skin. Additionally, excessive sun exposure increases the risk of sunburn, which can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. Protecting the skin with appropriate clothing and sunscreen is essential during extreme heat.

Preventive measures

To mitigate the adverse health effects of extreme heat, Dr Kumar shares a list of preventive measures:

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate the body.

Stay cool: Spend time in air-conditioned environments during peak heat hours. Use fans, take cool showers, and wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.

Avoid strenuous activities: Limit outdoor activities, especially during the hottest parts of the day. If you must be outside, take frequent breaks in the shade and drink water regularly.

Monitor vulnerable individuals: Keep an eye on the elderly, children, and those with chronic health conditions, as they are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.

Use sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

As temperatures continue to rise, awareness and preparation are key to preventing heat-related health issues. Stay informed about weather forecasts and heat advisories and take proactive steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers of extreme heat.

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