On Friday, March 23, PAGASA has officially declared the start of the dry season and forewarned every one of warmer days ahead. We are now at the height of summer, the time to frolic on the beach and have all sorts of outdoor fun, but it is also the time when the heat index is at its highest, which can give rise to serious and potentially fatal illnesses that can range from heat syncope to heat stroke. In any case, don’t let the summer heat stop you and your family from having outdoor fun, you need not to stay indoors, just take precautions so your health is not compromised.
What you need to know about heat index
Heat index is the temperature people feel as opposed to the temperature measured by instruments. It is a value that combines air temperature and relative humidity. When relative humidity is high, which is often the case in the Philippines, the heat index is significantly much higher than the air temperature.
We normally cool ourselves by sweating. Heat is removed from our body when sweat evaporates from our skin. Still, high relative humidity reduces the evaporation rate of sweat resulting in a lower rate of heat removal from our body. Thus, for us in the Philippines, where relative humidity often exceeds 70% or higher, a room temperature of 32 °C can have a heat index of 41°C or higher.
PAGASA explains that a heat index between 41 and 54 degrees—which for the Philippines will be commonplace this summer—is dangerous and likely to cause cramps, exhaustion, and even heat stroke after continuous activity. The heat index across the country will definitely go above 41°C many times this summer that is why our Department of Health (DOH) has raised the red flag on heat stroke and has urged the public to take precautionary measures to prevent the condition. Especially susceptible to heat stroke are the senior citizens because their temperature-regulating mechanisms do not function very well anymore, those who work outdoors and commuters in vehicles that do not have air-conditioning units.
Heat stroke and other heat disorders
Heat stroke is the severest form of a continuum of heat disorders that include heat syncope, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion.
Heat syncope is typified by transient loss of consciousness while heat cramps is characterized by muscle spasms. In both, the skin is moist, the pulse is weak, and the person may complain of dizziness, lightheadedness, or headache. People with heat syncope or cramps should be placed in a cool environment and given lots of fluids.
Heat exhaustion, on the other hand, is characterized by slight to moderate fever, increased pulse rate, moist skin, thirst, anxiousness, and sometimes, incoherence and disorientation. Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, a life-threatening emergency that is marked by very high body temperature (41°C or higher). People suffering from heat exhaustion or stroke should be brought to the hospital. First aid measures include cooling of the skin by spraying with water or by applying cold compresses or ice packs on the neck, wrists, ankles, and armpits. The person can be made to sip water slowly, about a glass per 15 minutes, up to three to four glasses, but this should be stopped if vomiting occurs.
Means to prevent heat disorders
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when it is hottest. Confine your outdoor activities to the early morning and late afternoon hours. Likewise, avoid being under the sun for long stretches.
- “Slip a shirt and slap a hat.” Clothing and hats offer the best protection against the sun. Wear loose, cool, and light-colored clothing, and change clothes when sweating profusely.
- Apply sunscreen cream liberally when you go out in the sun.
- Take fluids liberally. When exposed to the sun, drink two to four glasses of fluids (water is best) per hour. Don’t drink alcohol, coffee, or beverages that contain large amounts of sugar-these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps. If you sweat too much, sports beverages could be taken instead of plain water.
- Avoid strenuous exercises during daylight hours, perform them after sundown.
- Never leave children or animals in parked cars. The sun can make car interiors unbearably hot.
This piece originally appeared on Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. Check out our piece on how senior citizens can protect themselves from the harsh sun.