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Currently, temperatures in some parts of India are incessantly rising and have begun to cross 40 degrees Celsius, with even higher temperatures anticipated this summer, with March being India`s hottest month in 122 years as declared by the Indian Meteorological Department.
The dangerous combination of heat and, on cloudy days, humidity, is sapping the strength of an individual, resulting in heatstroke, exhaustion, cramps, and prickly heat. Besides being detrimental to health, environmental heat stress can also decrease productivity and work output. Over the years, a sharp rise in climate change has led to an increasing frequency of heatwaves the world over, with vulnerable demographics such as the elderly and younger children being most affected by heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Heat exhaustion causes the body to get dehydrated very quickly and lose excess amounts of water and salt, typically from sweating, thus draining a person's energy completely. Some of the warning signs of the effects of heat exhaustion include dizziness, giddiness, weakness, fatigue, irritability, personality changes, headaches, and high body temperature while excessive thirst may or may not be present. Leaving heat exhaustion untreated for an extended period can also lead to heatstroke, which is far more severe and requires immediate medical attention to prevent complications. Heatstroke symptoms to watch out for are confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech, loss of consciousness, hot, dry skin or profuse sweating, seizures and a very high body temperature.
The immediate aim is to lower the body temperature of the heat-affected person at the earliest, and then seek medical aid by evacuating the patient to a healthcare facility.
It is essential to shift the patient to a shaded area or even indoors, and, if conscious, to give plenty of oral fluids in the form of sips of cool water and salty-sweet lime juice. If the person is unconscious, remove/loosen clothing and cover with a wet sheet while fanning vigorously, to lower the body temperature, and, thereafter, arrange for a prompt evacuation to the nearest healthcare facility.
(The article is contributed by Col (Dr) MP Cariappa, Technical Advisor, Health Initiatives, Tata Trusts)
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