What are the Summer Health Hazards?
India is seeing higher heat wave deaths than ever before and medical authorities are issuing regular health warnings and precautions to cope with such conditions.
Exposure to extreme heat can result in some serious health issues. Heat stroke, heat stress, heat rash, heat cramps, and exhaustion are among the top health hazards that can lead to life-threatening events if not treated swiftly.
Prevention remains the key. Lack of awareness is one of the reasons for the near-fatal results of summer health hazards. Let us look at some of the most common health hazards that may afflict us with the onset of the Indian summer and a few tips to ward off the perils caused by them.
The most common and serious heat-related disorder, heat stroke occurs when the body’s internal mechanism to control its temperature goes haywire. The common symptoms to watch out here are a swift rise in body temperature, no sweating and therefore no cooling down of the body. With the onset of heat stroke, the body temperature can reach as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit within 15-20 minutes. Such high temperatures can impact the body’s vital organs. To avoid any complications, the most important treatment for heat stroke is to quickly cool down the body by giving the patient a cold shower and providing a cool room for them.
Summer heat dries up our reserves of body fluids and this can lead to episodes of heat syncope or fainting spells. This often happens if you have been standing a long time in the sun or rise suddenly from a rest position, like sitting or lying down. Dehydration and lack of adaptation to high temperatures make you feel dizzy, light-headed and weak. The best remedy for this and most heat-related health dangers are drinking water frequently and keeping yourself hydrated during summer.
Heat exhaustion mainly occurs among people already suffering from high blood pressure, those working in hot surroundings and the elderly. Loss of salt and water due to excessive sweating can cause heat exhaustion. One needs to watch out for clammy, moist skin, shallow breathing and heavy sweating. Increasing the intake of water, resting in a cool, shaded environment and taking a cold shower or bath can mitigate the symptoms.
Excessive sweating during a strenuous activity can cause heat cramps. The depletion of body’s salts and moisture levels cause painful muscles cramps in the abdomen, legs or arms. Cessation of all physical activity, resting in a cool area and drinking clear juice or a sports drink can help. People with heart problems need to be extra careful. Medical help is required if the cramps do not lessen within an hour.
This is the most known heat-related ailment and most mild among the listed summer health dangers above. High summer temperatures and continuous sweating during humid weather conditions can cause skin rashes and irritations. Most likely to occur near the nape of the neck, groin area, under the breasts and upper chest, heat rashes can be seen as a cluster of tiny, red pimples or small blisters. Keeping the affected area as dry as possible and using a medicated, powder on the affected area can lessen the symptoms. Do not use antibiotic creams or powders.
Closely linked to heat rashes, sunburn need not occur only at beaches but can happen even on a cloudy, summer day. Clouds do not protect us from the harmful sun rays. The exposed parts of our bodies tend to burn when we are out causing painful sunburns. The best way to prevent these is by applying sunscreens on the exposed areas before venturing out in the heat.
If you do get a sunburn, find a shaded area to cool down and take a lukewarm bath, adding some cold, whole milk or rose water for a soothing effect.
Food-Water Borne Illnesses
Summer is the peak time for outbreaks of food-water borne ailments in India. Hot temperatures help bacteria thrive and make food susceptible to contamination and disease. India’s water quality is among the worst in the world. The UN has ranked India 120th out of 122 countries for water quality estimating that 70 percent of the supply is contaminated. At present, 21 percent of the country’s communicable diseases are transferred by unclean water. Food items left uncovered during the summer months also cause many infectious diseases during summer.
Dr. Rajesh Upadhyay, President, Association of Physicians India and Senior Consultant & Head, Department of Gastroenterology, Max Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi, said that bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter are found in contaminated food and thrive in a combination of high temperatures and humidity. “Food poisoning and water-borne diseases occur when people consume contaminated food/drink items causing symptoms of diarrhea and nausea,” he says. Dr. Upadhyay recommends avoiding street food and non-sealed cold drinks during the summer can prevent food poisoning. Meat should be thoroughly cooked before consuming. Remember to refrigerate vegetable and meat products separately.
Mosquitoes and Ticks
Another scourge of summer months is the rise in the menacing population of mosquitoes and flies due to humid conditions. Summer sees the onset of diseases like malaria, dengue and chikungunya.
Using chemical repellents and sprays are popular ways to keep them under control but it often results in the insects becoming immune to the anti-repellents. Prevention again is the best cure; ensure you wear long sleeved clothes and avoid areas where flies, mosquitoes can thrive like ponds, river banks and open areas with vegetation and stagnant water. Instead of using chemical sprays, you can try neem oil as a body lotion and burn camphor sticks to keep your home insect free during summers. Ensure your house plants are not left in stagnant water and use herbal sprays to keep them insect free.
The lure of jumping into cool, inviting pools for a swim during summer is a growing attraction, especially in the metros. Swimming lessons also attract children and adults during the summer to public pools. One of the major cause of infection is swimmer’s ear or otitis externa, a painful ear condition caused due to water being stuck in the ear canal while swimming or showering. To avoid this, doctors recommend keeping your ears dry post-swimming, using a dry towel and tilting the head to one side. Pull your ear lobes gently to allow the water in the ear canal to escape.
Heat and humidity can cause bacteria and fungi to grow in the ear causing ear infections. Hence, special care and attention are required for keeping ear infections at bay. Do not stick a cotton swab or other objects to clean the ear.
Summer heralds the leisure months of vacation and rest. Ensure you take preventative measures to avoid the common health dangers by taking extra precautions during the hot, scorching summer days to remain healthy and active.
- India’s Food and Water Security - (http://www.futuredirections.org.au/publications/food-and-water-crises/1715-india-s-food-and-water-security.html#sthash.uB6Glynd.dpuf)
- Health Issues - (https://healthychildren.org/english/health-issues/pages/default.aspx)
Latest Publications and Research on Summer Health HazardsCharacteristics and potential health risk of rural Tibetans' exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons during summer period. - Published by PubMed