Many countries around the world are currently experiencing extremely high temperatures. Europe is having a scorching summer and Britain is facing a heatwave like no other. Scientists say that heatwaves have become more frequent due to climate change. Extreme heat can be a very serious health hazard and in it is estimated that it causes the deaths of thousands of people annually around the world.

summer heat wave

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The main risks posed by a heatwave are:

  • not drinking enough water (dehydration)
  • overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing
  • heat exhaustion and heatstroke

Finally, it is also the holiday season for many people who got their big breaks after several years of being stuck due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

How do we survive this extreme heat? What simple steps can we take to move on with our lives and stay safe?

1. Eat light

Don’t eat large, protein-rich meals that can increase metabolic heat and warm the body. Eating salads, pasta dishes and light snacks helps us stay energised without ending up feeling lethargic from eating too much in one go. As you work or enjoy sightseeing, you wouldn’t want to feel bloated and sleepy – or that could ruin your fun. There are many ideas online on how to adapt your diet to a warmer climate, but you can also get tips from the locals where you are staying for your holiday. You can also enjoy more summer fruits, such as melons and peaches, which naturally help you stay hydrated for longer.Avoiding late night snacks can also help. Late-night eating has been linked to elevated night-time core body temperatures, which can disturb our sleep.

2. Drink water

Remember to maintain an adequate level of hydration, which means you will need to consume more water than you usually do when it’s hot. If you’re sweating profusely, you will also need to replace electrolytes by eating a small amount of food with your water or by drinking specially-formulated electrolyte replacement drinks. Thirst is the first sign of dehydration; you should drink enough fluids before you feel thirsty to prevent dehydration.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine or consume limited amounts of them as these tend to reduce the fluid levels in the body. The human body needs to be well hydrated to function well. Lack of fluids can also affect our mental well-being as we find it hard to focus on the things that we should be enjoying – and you wouldn’t want to risk that especially if you are on holiday.

Here are just a few important ways water works in your body:

  • Regulates body temperature Moistens tissues in the eyes, nose and mouth
  • Protects body organs and tissues
  • Carries nutrients and oxygen to cells
  • Lubricates joints
  • Lessens burden on kidneys and liver by flushing out waste products
  • Helps dissolve minerals and nutrients to make them accessible to your body

Every day, you lose water through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements, which is why it’s important to continue to take in water throughout the day. For your body to function at its best, you must replenish its water supply with beverages and food that contain water.

drink water

3. Light clothes

It helps to wear light clothing and to cover up as much as possible with cotton or linen clothing. There is a reason why people living in desert countries cover up so much. The different clothes layers serve as insulation against the external heat and allow the body to maintain more of its fluids. They are also better protected from hot winds and dust storms. Wearing loose-fitting clothes can help by allowing air to circulate next to your skin.

4. Stay in the shade or air-conditioned rooms

Keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm. In an ideal world, we would be able to enjoy the heat outside or else we would live out a very hot summer spell by staying safely indoors in air-conditioned rooms. Of course, that is not possible all the time. If you cannot avoid the heat completely, at least stay safe. Seek the shade and avoid direct sunlight as much as possible. Wear a hat and use a fan.

Pets, especially dogs, also require extra care in the heat. On hot days, they should be kept indoors or in the shade and not taken for walks or exercise – not only can their paws burn on hot surfaces, but because they can’t cool off by sweating the same way we do, they’re particularly vulnerable to heatstroke.

5. Apply sunblock

Protection against the sun’s dangerous rays should be your priority, even if you are running a quick errand or there is a nice breeze – it will not make up for the very hot sun. Currently in the UK, dog owners are even being encouraged to put sunblock on their dog’s sensitive noses. Just imagine how much protection is needed by the human’s sensitive skin, especially if you are not used to being exposed to the sun on a regular basis.

It is therefore important to use sunscreen and apply it properly, but also, to take other protective steps. Australia recommends the “slip, slop, slap” method, especially for children, which encourages people to “slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat”, as well as seeking out shade and avoiding the hottest hours. These simple steps have helped the country reduce its high skin cancer rates.

6. Change routine

As challenging as it may sound, it would be beneficial to turn our gaze to Middle Easter countries and learn from the experience of people who have inhabited this hot part of the world for a very long time, and how they have adapted to make the most of the potentially cooler air during the night. When working outside, consider changing your routine to do the most strenuous jobs early in the morning or later in the afternoon. In my experience while living and working in the Middle East, it was interesting to observe how several works used to take place during the night and public areas appear to come alive after sunset. This is also becoming the norm in European countries, with tour guides also being observed leading groups through city centres after the sun has gone down.

Try to visit public buildings with air conditioning during the hottest hours of the day if the heat becomes unbearable. Libraries, shopping malls, and movie theatres can all be good places to cool down.

7. Call for help

Look out for those who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated – older people, those with underlying health conditions and those who live alone are particularly at risk. Be able to recognise the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and true heat emergencies (heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, heat stroke). Call emergency services (911) in the event of a heat emergency and try to cool the victim until help arrives.

Josiane Camilleri

Josiane Camilleri

Professor

Writer for Therapy Hunter as well as psychology
professor at Malta University.

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