The summer heat

Some like it hot
… Some like it hot, so let’s turn up the heat till we fry
… Some feel the heat and decide that they can’t go on

Well, all I am talking about here is the summertime and the hot rays of the sun, just that. And it is enough for a large amount of facts to be brought up and recognised as extremely important.
Indeed some like it so hot that they certainly let themselves fry under the sun.
The clever ones, when they feel the heat and can’t go on, they protect their bodies from frying under the sun.

The summer heat
Many people do not realise how deadly heat can be. Hundreds of people die each year due to the effects of heat. In contrast to the visible, destructive and violent nature of some other natural events, heat is a “silent killer”.
It is important to consider the real temperature, how the hot weather “feels” to the body, not just the air temperature. Humidity, exposure to sunshine and wind combine to produce the “apparent temperature” or the temperature the body “feels”.

Strong winds, particularly with very hot, dry air can be extremely hazardous as the wind adds heat to the body.
A heat wave is a period of excessive heat lasting two days or more that can lead to illnesses in people who suffer from prolonged exposure to these conditions. High humidity can make the effects of heat even more harmful. Heat-related illnesses and death can occur with exposure to heat in just one afternoon; heat stress on the body has a cumulative effect.

How heat affects the human body
The human body dissipates heat by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation, by losing water through the skin and sweat glands. The heart begins to pump more blood, blood vessels dilate to accommodate the increased flow and the bundles of tiny capillaries threading through the upper layers of skin are put into operation.

The blood is circulated closer to the skin’s surface and excess heat drains off into the cooler atmosphere. At the same time, water, including dissolved salts, diffuses through the skin as perspiration.

The skin handles about 90% of the body’s heat dissipating function but, unless the water is removed by evaporation, sweating by itself does nothing to cool the body.

The evaporation process works this way: the heat energy required to evaporate the sweat is extracted from the body, thereby cooling it. High relative humidity slows evaporation.

The body does everything it can to maintain a normal, stable internal temperature.

Heat disorders
Heat disorders result from a decrease in the body’s ability to shed heat by circulatory changes and sweating, or a chemical (salt) imbalance caused by too much sweating. When heat gain exceeds the level the body can remove, or the body cannot compensate for the fluids and salt lost through sweating, the internal temperature of the body begins to rise and heat-related illness may develop.

SUNBURN: The symptoms of sunburn include redness and pain. In severe cases, swelling of skin, blisters, fever and headaches can result.

HEAT CRAMPS: Muscular pains and spasms that usually involve the abdominal muscles or the legs and can be very painful.

HEAT EXHAUSTION: Due to prolonged and profuse sweating, the body loses large quantities of salt and water. When these are not replaced, blood circulation diminishes and affects the heart, brain and lungs. With heat exhaustion, sweat does not evaporate due to high humidity or layers of clothing, so the body is not cooled properly. Body temperature will be near normal. If not treated, the victim’s condition will worsen. The body temperature will keep rising, possibly leading to heat stroke.

HEAT STROKE: The victim’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.

Who is at risk?
Everyone will be affected by hot climate but some are more vulnerable than others.
Children are among the most vulnerable and will be exposed longer to the health consequences. The health effects are also expected to be more severe for elderly people and people with infirmities or pre-existing medical conditions.

Climate changes
Between 2030 and 2050, climate changes are expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year.

In the last 100 years, the world has continually warmed and each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850.

Climate change affects social and environmental determinants of health like clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

Although the overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative, global warming may bring some localised benefits, such as fewer winter deaths in temperate climates and increased food production in certain areas. Just trying to think positive!

Controlling behaviours is the most important thing we should all do, not just considering our own health when we are at the beach, but also adopting global attitudes to control climate changes that will affect the future of humanity.
Man should never think that nature can be controlled.

In the end, nature always wins, we lose.

Best healthy wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice

By Dr Maria Alice

Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve