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When playing in the sun is no longer fun: Surviving the heatwave in Pakistan

Dr. Hira Tanveer

6 min read

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June is here in full swing, and the Sun has decided to scorch. Punjab and Sindh are especially sweltering from the heatwave that has enveloped the region. Thermometers may show the temperature in 40 degrees Celsius, but it’s the ‘feels like’ scale that burgeons over 50 degrees and is representing the true state of the Pakistani people. 

The mornings come long and slow, and the afternoons are full of dry winds that make the heat even more palpable, and thus unbearable. The state of perpetual sweat makes the clothes stick, and the heat, worse. 

Air conditioning too does not offer much reprieve. Due to the extremely high temperatures during the heatwave, there is only so much that the system can take. Coupled with frequent power outages, we have a recipe for disaster. 

What is a Heatwave?

Pakistani summers can be gruesome, and we expect as much, but it is during the heat waves that the stamina falls short. Unlike the usual high temperatures, a heatwave is a special period during which a high-pressure system causes the hot air to get trapped. Consequently, it prevents the air from rising –yes, hot air rises. 

Due to the trapping of the hot air, temperatures soar. Unlike the pressure, a reprieve in the form of rain cannot also be expected. This system continues for a few days at the very least.

What are the dangers of a Heatwave? 

Notwithstanding the extreme discomfort brought on by the heatwave, there is also the fact that it can be fatal as well. It was not long ago that the heatwave in Karachi killed hundreds of people in a day. 

Globally as well, heat waves are responsible for causing many people to lose their lives each year. Heatwaves, therefore, rank amongst the deadliest natural catastrophes. Most lives are lost to the phenomenon of heatstroke. 

Symptoms of heatstroke: 

Heatstroke is a condition in which the body overheats due to exposure to high temperatures. It is more common in people who have to work outside during the scorching heat or spend long hours outdoors. 

As the body already expends energy when working, our temperature is already high during bouts of physical exertion. The heat from the environment makes the situation even worse. As it is common when people are not used to high temperatures, hence, the unusually high temperature during the heatwave increases the likelihood of heatstroke. This type of heatstroke is known as exertional heat stroke. 

On the other hand, prolonged exposure to hot temperatures, as is common during heat waves, can also cause the core temperature of the body to rise, and lead to what is known as non-exertional or classic heatstroke. It is more common in people who are chronically ill or old. 

  • In heatstroke, the body temperature goes over 40 degrees Celsius or 104 Fahrenheit. Symptoms of heatstroke include:
  • Headache, skin turning red, or flushing.
  • People may also throw up or have nausea.
  • Heatstroke also causes the heart rate to increase; the heart gets under the stress to cool the body, and as blood plays an important role in temperature regulation, thus the cardiovascular system gets overwhelmed.  This also causes breathing to become rapid. 
  • Symptoms of heatstroke also include a changed mental state. People can get disoriented, present behavioral problems like anger and irritability. Moreover, it can also cause people to become delirious, have seizures. In serious cases, heatstroke can also induce coma. 

For people with classic heatstroke, the skin is hot and dry, but in people with exertional heat stroke, the skin might feel damp instead of dry in some cases. 

How to Deal with a Heat Stroke?

Heatstroke, if not treated in time, can result in death. Thus, people need urgent medical attention. As you wait for medical aid, try bringing down the temperature of the patient. If they are out in the sun, move them to the shade. 

If possible, hose them with cool water, or ice them. The goal is to bring their body temperature down. As the armpits, neck, and groin have the highest temperature in the body, focus on especially icing them. Removing the excess clothing is also helpful in such cases. 

Surviving heatwave: 

Heatstroke is a very real and extreme danger. Therefore, it is vital that everyone takes steps to override this wave, safely. Following are some tips that are helpful for surviving the heatwave.

1. Hydrate:

Not only is water refreshing, but your body’s requirement for water also increases during summers, all thanks to the profuse sweating. Sufficient hydration plays a part in cooling your body. If the body is unable to cool down, heat stroke and exhaustion can also occur.

Therefore, drink water especially when you are thirsty, as that’s your body signaling you for some water, but also when you are not thirsty. 

However, people who have health conditions that prevent them from drinking excess water, like epilepsy, heart or liver disease, should first consult with their doctor. 

2. Have your air conditioning and backups ready:

Ideally, any problems with your cooling system should be fixed before the summer. The checklist includes servicing the ACs, cleaning the filters and the outers, making sure the windows seal properly so that the cool air does not seep out, and the fans are working fine. 

Since Pakistan is frequented with long and arduous power outages during the summers, you should have your backups like generators and UPS ready. 

3. Stay indoors:

You might not have cabin fever, but it’s still better than the danger of an actual fever brought on by heatstroke. 

Try to curb yourself and peacefully ride out the heatwave from the inside of your house. Step outside only when necessary and try visiting places that have air conditioning. Suffice to say, playing outdoors should not be on the cards. 

Even when stepping outside, avoid exertions during the hottest hours; from 10 in the morning to around 5 in the evening. 

4. Protect yourself against the Sun:

When stepping out in the Sun, try to limit direct exposure to the scorching rays. Take an umbrella so that the Sun does not beat directly on you. If that’s out of the question, then at least wear a wide-brimmed hat. 

Be sure to wear sunglasses, as the area around the eyes is very delicate, and is more likely to suffer from sun damage. Sun also has harmful radiation that can damage the eyes, leading to problems like cataracts

Furthermore, be sure to wear sunscreen before stepping out, to protect against skin issues, like skin cancer. 

5. Your choice of beverage is important:

As much as cool coke, cold coffees, and iced teas tempt you, you need exercise control. Your mind might tell you Hey, that’s hydration, however, it’s an antithesis of it. 

Caffeinated beverages promote water loss from the body. Thus, it is imperative that you watch out for your choice of beverage, so as to not further endanger your health. Try instead a chilly glass of water with lemon wedge or mint; it is refreshing, does not pack empty calories and also helps the  body stay hydrated.  

6. Heat appropriate clothing:

Tight clothes can wait till after the heatwave is gone. When temperatures are high, wearing tight clothing can actually impair the cooling-off process, and thus can have a potentially grave impact on your health. 

Instead, wear loose clothes so that your skin is able to breathe. It will allow your sweat to dry off, and thus body temperature can be regulated. 

Also, opt for a summer-friendly fabric that is light. Cotton and lawn are popular choices. Light colors also help reflect the sunlight, so instead of blacks and the rich jewel tones, opt for white and pastels.  

7. Take good diet:

One great part of summer is the fruits. The juicy mangoes, the scrumptious watermelons, the sweet cantaloupes, the succulent leeches, amongst many other fruits, are some of nature’s summer offerings that have high water content. Include these refreshing fruits in your diet so that your body gets the vital nutrients, with plenty of fiber and water.  

Also, eat healthy food to fortify your body. Protein-rich meals can lead to an increase in metabolic heat, and thus can make your body hot. Hence, avoid big steaks, and eat a bowl of cold salad instead. 

8. Curtain game: strong:

It is good to utilize natural light, but during a heatwave, it can cause the temperature of the house to rise, especially due to the greenhouse effect. Therefore, invest in good and thick blinds. Cover your windows so that your home generally remains cool. 

9. Evacuate the top floors:

The higher your floor is, the greater exposure to sunlight is. While not many people, especially those living in apartment buildings, have the choice of changing their living arrangements. Those living in multi-story houses have this luxury and they should therefore move to the lower floors. The temperature difference between different floors is profound!

10. Getting help for health issues:

It is pertinent to watch out for the symptoms of heatstroke. Timely intervention can very likely save your life. As heatstroke is something that cannot be managed at home, it is very important that you take the patient experiencing symptoms of heatstroke to the hospital immediately. 

However, heat can also cause other health complications, especially in older people and children. High temperatures can lead to heat cramps, which are characterized by spasms in the large muscles of the body. It is often accompanied by profuse sweating. 

Similarly, heat rash is another common condition brought on by hot summers. In this state, sweat glands get blocked, due to tight clothes, thick fabric, or lack of circulation of air. The sweat then gets trapped within, leading to inflammation. This is referred to as prickly heat in the vernacular, and many prickly heat powders aim to remedy this state. However, most of the time, heat rash abates when the skin is allowed to cool. 

Moreover, heatwaves can also cause heat exhaustion. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating alongside weakness. People also get disoriented, have nausea, and even vomiting. It also causes headaches and cramps in the muscles. As heatwave can progress to heatstroke, it is imperative that you enlist the help of the doctor right away, rather than waiting for the symptoms of heat stroke to set in. 

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Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Hira Tanveer - Author Dr. Hira Tanveer is among the Best General Physicians in Lahore. Dr. Hira Tanveer is an MBBS doctor and currently serving at CMH Lahore. Writing is her favorite hobby as she loves to share professional advice on trendy healthcare issues, general well-being, healthy diet, and lifestyle.
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