Nicknamed Lucifer, the current heatwave sweeping over Europe is wreaking havoc on many of the continent’s most popular holiday destinations. Causing droughts, wildfires and hospitalisations, it’s currently affecting around eleven southern and central countries, with residents and tourists having been warned to take extra precautions in the coming weeks. Temperatures have soared to as much as 10-15C higher than normal in some places and red alerts have already been issued for Italy, Switzerland and Croatia among others for the most intense heatwave experienced since 2003.
Heat exhaustion and more seriously, heat stroke are two of the main conditions proving most prevalent, and with many of us going on holiday in the coming weeks, extra vigilance is required especially for those travelling to the affected regions (where advice from individual health authorities should be adhered to and long journeys only conducted when essential). An important factor to bear in mind whether you’re travelling to Europe, Asia or beyond, we asked Dr. Petra Simic, GP, Bupa Health Clinics , for her insight, advice and tips about prevention, symptoms and treatment.
GTG: What are the main causes of heat exhaustion and heat stroke?
Quite simply – too much heat from sunny or hot weather. This can mean that our body overheats, and can’t cool itself efficiently. If you start having symptoms (more on that below) and don’t take action, you could become seriously unwell.
GTG: What are the symptoms?
If you have heat exhaustion, you will feel hot, tired, you may have a headache and feel nauseous. If you do not cool yourself down, for example by getting out of the sun, your body temperature may continue to rise, causing you to feel drowsy or confused, which are warning signs of heat stroke.
Though rarer, other symptoms include cramping and a raised temperature. These symptoms are usually the same in adults and children.
The main difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke (which is much more serious) is that if you have heat stroke your core temperature will be 40C or above, you will feel very unwell, your skin will be dry and you won’t be sweating. If you have symptoms of heat exhaustion and you haven’t cooled down after 30 minutes of being in a cooler room and drinking lots of water, this can be a sign that heat stroke is developing. If this is the case, go and see a medical professional as soon as you can.
GTG: What are the best ways to prevent them?
My number one tip would be to always stay out of the heat between 11am and 3pm. Keep cool in the warm weather – drink lots of cold water and avoid alcohol. Eating lots of fresh fruit will help too as it has high water content.
If you’re travelling to a hot country, be really careful for the first few days as you get used to higher temperatures and the sun.
GTG: What can you do to treat them?
The first thing you need to do is to cool down. Move to a cool place, remove any unnecessary clothing, lie down and raise your feet so they are above the level of your heart and drink plenty of fluids (water is best – sports or rehydration drinks are okay). You can also use a cool sponge to cool your skin. Make sure someone stays with you until you feel a bit better – which you should do in half an hour or so. I’d avoid getting into an ice bath, as these can cause blood vessels in the skin to constrict, which may actually stop you from cooling down.
If you don’t start to cool down and feel better, go and see a medical professional as you may have developed heat stroke.
GTG: Who’s most at risk?
Anyone can be affected, particularly if you are not used to hot temperatures. However, children under four and the elderly tend to adjust to heat more slowly, so it’s important that they take extra care in the sun.
GTG: How serious can they be?
The majority of people who’ve had a bit too much sun will feel much better after a rest in a cool room, lots of water and a good night’s sleep. However, some cases can be more severe. If you, or someone you are with, are not feeling better after cooling down, have a temperature of over 40C or are confused, or lose consciousness, it’s really important to get urgent medical help.
GTG: Any further warnings to take heed of?
Be careful, particularly at the beginning of a holiday, when your body isn’t used to hot, sunny weather. Drink plenty of water, stay cool and keep an eye on children and elderly relatives.