When the weather is scorching, the only thing most of us feel like doing is jumping into the nearest body of water, whether it be a pool or the sea, in efforts to cool down. However, spending hours trying to cool off in the water without adequate protection from the sun or the heat can lead to adverse situations, the most prevalent and fatal being heatstroke (or sunstroke).
Heatstroke can be defined as a state of exhaustion and unconsciousness that develops as a result of the body failing to regulate its temperature after spending prolonged periods of time in excessively hot environments. It occurs when your body temperature rises to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher after exertion or being out in the sun.
Characterized by fever, dizziness, headache, mental changes, fatigue, muscle weakness, cramps, irritability, drowsiness, nausea and seizures, this condition is mostly seen in children under the age of 4 because they are more sensitive to heat and neither their body's temperature-regulating system nor their vascular system has developed adequately. Older adults and overweight individuals are also at higher risk.
“If treatment isn't given quickly, serious damage can occur in the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles, even leading to life-threatening situations such as organ failure. Therefore, being cautious against sunstroke is vital," child health and diseases specialist Dr. Çiğdem Yavrucu said.
Here are eight tips to protect yourself and your children from heatstroke.
1. Avoid sun during peak hours
Especially if you have children, try to keep them from going outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are most perpendicular to the earth and when exposure to UV rays is most dangerous. Avoid doing heavy exercise and sports during hotter hours. Do outdoor activities early in the morning or in the evening. Also, allow your body some time to adjust to temperature changes, especially after being in a cool, air-conditioned room. Be careful when first going out into the heat and try to gradually transition from the shade into the sun.
2. Drink, drink, drink
Preventing your body from getting dehydrated is one of the most effective ways of preventing heat or sunstroke.
"Whenever there is a loss of fluid after periods of sweating due to excessive heat, it is normal to see symptoms such as high fever and fatigue/weakness in children. Therefore, make sure your child drinks plenty of water. Especially children in the 1-3 age group cannot realize that they are thirsty. Help them turn it into a habit to drink 1-1.5 liters of water throughout the day without waiting for them to actually say they are thirsty," Yavrucu said.
3. Sunscreen: Give yourself at least 15-30 minutes
One of the biggest mistakes people make while trying to protect their skin from the sun is to apply sunscreen just before they head out the door. Though for inorganic sunscreens (also referred to as physical sunscreens) that contain UV filters such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide this may not be the case, organic sunscreens which contain filters such as avobenzone and tinosorb S do not act immediately and need time to soak into the skin. Some of the cream will be absorbed by the skin or evaporate to leave behind a thin UV-protective layer. Regardless of age or skin color, make sure to wear a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
4. Repeat application every 2-4 hours
Yavrucu stressed that the effects of sunscreens last about three to four hours at max and said: “For this reason, if your child is going to spend time outdoors, be sure to reapply sunscreen. If you are going to use sunscreen for the first time, first apply it to a small area on the foot and test it to check for allergies."
Some dermatologists also recommend testing on the inside of the elbow and behind the ear. After 24-48 hours, if there is no adverse reaction, meaning burning, redness, itchiness or swelling, you can use the sunscreen all over your body, Yavrucu said.
Also pay close attention to expiration dates and the date you opened the packaging to make sure the product is still effective. If it has been a year since you last used it, there is a chance that it has lost its potency so make sure to always check.
5. Let your body breathe
Since we are more likely to sweat in high temperatures, wearing loose clothes made out of breathable, natural fabrics such as cotton and linen, and in lighter colors is important. If you notice you are sweating a lot, changing your clothes frequently is also a good idea. Try to avoid standing under direct sunlight and shield your head and face with a wide-brimmed hat.
Children tend to sweat more on the head and neck, Yavrucu said, therefore choose hats made out of thinner, breathable fabrics and materials.
6. Take a shower or 2
Showering every day should be a given on hotter days and in summer, and although the thought of dosing your body in warm water might not be that enticing, the lukewarm temperature helps to lower your body temperature, reduce sweating and therefore prevent salt loss.
Also, don't be afraid of having more than one shower a day.
7. Don't stay in enclosed places for long
In hot weather, our body temperatures, and especially children's, can rise rapidly, which makes places such as cars dangerous. Even if you are in the shade, it is important that the place is well-ventilated.
8. Stay away from these foods
Avoid fatty, spicy and sugary foods, especially in the summer. These foods can negatively affect the functioning of the system that regulates body temperature.
What to do if you suspect you or your child is suffering from heatstroke
As untreated heatstroke can quickly damage multiple organs, it requires emergency treatment. As soon as you notice symptoms, call the emergency line (112 in Turkey) or contact the nearest health facility.
While you wait, get out from under the sun and go to a cooler place. Take off excess clothing and apply wet cloths or ice packs on the body to lower body temperature. Cooling down the armpits, groin, neck and back will help cool the body down overall and more quickly as the blood vessels in these areas are closer to the surface.
If the patient is conscious, give them water to keep them hydrated and replenish all the lost fluids. If they are unresponsive, under no circumstances try to get them to drink water as you can cause them to suffocate.