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Surviving the heat!

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

Dr Rosie Carey - Talks to us about surviving the heat...

According to some sources, 2019 was the second hottest year on record since the recording of temperatures became standard in 1880.

Analyses also show that the five hottest years on record have been the five years beginning in 2015.

It certainly feels like this is true at the moment! I don’t think I can remember a hotter summer than this one. In Ballito, we feel the heat even more because of the additive effect of the humidity. The body’s natural cooling mechanism- sweating- is rendered partially ineffective in high humidity as the high levels of moisture in the air prevent adequate evaporation of sweat.

So, what are the dangers of the high temperatures and how do we survive the heat?

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a condition caused by overheating of the body’s core temperature, usually either as a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures or as a result of physical exertion in high temperatures.

Untreated heatstroke can damage your brain, kidneys and heart and the longer treatment is delayed, the higher your risk of developing serious complications. Symptoms of heatstroke can range from mild to severe and may include nausea and/or vomiting, raised heart rate, flushed skin, confusion, delirium, slurred speech, coms, rapid breathing and headache.

If you suspect someone has heatstroke it is imperative to get them to a doctor as soon as possible. Until they are able to reach medical help, move them indoors or into the shade, remove any excess clothing and try to cool them down.

Effective ways to cool someone down include immersing them in water, wetting their clothes or covering them with wet towels and then fanning them.

Some tips to prevent heatstroke:

1)Avoid being outdoors during the worst heat of the day (10am to 3pm). Try to hit the beach before midday or later in the afternoon. Be especially aware when it’s slightly cloudy or windy as it can still be as hot, but you may be lulled into a false sense of security by the cloud cover or wind.

2)Always make sure that you stay adequately hydrated. Ideally aim for 500ml of non-alcoholic fluid per hour. You may want to add an electrolyte solution to your drink if you are sweating excessively as this will help with the absorption of fluids and maintain your blood pressure, which can drop in the heat.

3)Wear thin, light-coloured clothing as protection from the sun and make sure that skin areas that are exposed are covered in sunblock (preferably marine-friendly).

4)Avoid alcoholic drinks. Alcohol exacerbates the effects of the heat and increases the risk of severe heatstroke. Drinking alcohol can affect your body’s ability to regulate temperature and also dehydrate you, worsening the symptoms of heatstroke.

5)Do a drug check: some medications can increase the risk for severe heatstroke. These include diuretics, some blood pressure medications and stimulants such as the medications used for treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Recreational drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine also make you more vulnerable to heatstroke.

6)Take extra care of young children and pets who aren’t able to tell you that they are overheating, and never leave children or pets in a parked car as this is a common cause of heat-related deaths!

7)Plan to exercise or do physical activity in the early morning or late afternoon, once the worst heat of the day has passed. Exercising in the heat can very quickly lead to heatstroke.

Hopefully these tips will see you through the remainder of this very warm summer, safely. We are certainly privileged to live so close to the beach, but with the wonderful outdoor lifestyle that Ballito promises come certain risks and we have a responsibility to acknowledge these and prioritize our health.


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