Very hot weather? This is what to do

The forecast this week is for temperatures over 40° C, and all the weather forecasters are warning of extreme heat. Dr. Jalal Ashkar, Director of the Emergency Medicine Department, explains how the very hot weather affects our health and what we should do to stay safe

Dr. Jalal Ashkar

Exposure to extreme heat can exacerbate diseases and/or existing health issues, sometimes even leading to disability or premature death. For example, with respiratory issues, hot weather and air pollution increase the number of small dust particles in the atmosphere and the frequency of sandstorms. This can cause respiratory disorders and, in the long term, may even lead to chronic respiratory diseases, particularly in people with asthma and allergies.


The higher the temperature, the more fluids we lose and the thirstier we become. As a result, we can sometimes drink too much, leading to excess fluid in the body. For people with heart failure, excess fluid can lead to acute heart failure. However, the intense heat causes greater fluid loss, which can negatively affect kidney function and, therefore, it is important to drink enough fluids.


The heat helps suppress appetite, although the need to drink increases. Among diabetes patients who inject insulin right before eating, eating less and drinking more can impact their blood sugar level and could lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Therefore, the recommendation for this population is to eat more small meals during the day.


When temperatures outside are high, the superficial veins expand and more blood flows to them - to allow sweating, which cools down the body. As a result, less blood flows to the essential internal organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, brain, etc. This could lead to seriously impaired function of these organs, to significant increase in body temperature, loss of consciousness and even death.


Additionally, prolonged exposure to the sun is known to increase the risk of skin cancer, and the risk is even higher in people with light skin.


Also, in terms of vision, today we know that high temperatures lead to changes in the cells of the retina, leading to vision disturbances and impaired visual acuity and quality, particularly in people with hypersensitive eyes.


Studies have also found that exposure to high temperatures has a behavioral and perhaps even a psychological impact, and they may lead to exacerbation of anxiety, suicidal tendencies and regression.


So what can be done?

  • Refrain from prolonged exposure to the sun, especially during the midday hours, in other words, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., in order to prevent heatstroke and burns to the body. 
  • It is advisable to stay in a shaded/air-conditioned area, particularly for the elderly and people with chronic diseases such as lung disease. 
  • Always put on sunscreen before going out into the sun. 
  • Refrain from outdoor sports/aerobic activities such as running. 
  • Do not leave children in a closed vehicle - the temperature inside the car is much higher than outside the vehicle and is truly life threatening. 
  • Make sure to drink a lot in order to restore the fluids lost and prevent dehydration. 
  • In extreme heat, it is advisable to refrain from nature hikes, and this is also a season when there are typically snake bites and scorpion stings.
  • Make sure to eat small and sufficient amounts throughout the day, particularly in diabetes patients. 
  • Keep medications in the refrigerator or at temperatures that do not exceed 25° C. At high temperatures, medications lose their therapeutic attributes and therefore will not affect the person who takes them. 
  • For people who perform physical work such as construction workers, it is important to make sure to drink a great deal, wear a head covering and moisture-wicking clothing, and rest in a shady area.


When should you seek medical attention?


Whenever a person experiences a physical change after prolonged exposure to heat, for example, weakness, stupor or unconsciousness, strong headache, collapse, fainting, fever above 41° C (typical of heatstroke), muscle pain, apathy, etc., particularly if the patient belongs to one of the high-risk groups listed above, it is important that they go to the emergency room/clinic and undergo a medical exam.

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