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How To Stay Healthy In Heat And Humidity

So you’ve had enough of this drizzly UK weather forecast for one year and have booked a fortnight away for some much needed sun? Good on you. Apart from bringing plenty of suncream there are a few other things you should be aware of before travelling in hot and sunny climates away from home.

Sun and Heat

As much as we might love the sun, sometimes it just
doesn’t love us. When we travel to really hot or tropical
climates, the rapid change in humidity and temperature can have
some nasty effects on our health. Heat disorders range from the
mild, like:

  • heat rash or ‘prickly heat’
  • fainting
  • swelling in your hands, feet or legs
  • muscle cramp

… but can also get more serious. Some major heat
disorders include:

  • heat exhaustion
  • heatstroke
  • dehydration
  • ‘hyponatremia’ which when you get low sodium levels
    in the blood due to overexertion or too much exercise in a hot
    climate

If serious heat disorders like these are left untreated then
things could turn nasty. Don’t let the heat get you down on
your holiday by making sure you’re prepared for it with our
handy guide on Heat and Humidity. We’ve come up with a list
of ways to reduce your chances of getting ill in the hot weather on
your next trip.

So, who’s at risk?

Anyone travelling to a much hotter or more humid climate is at
risk of getting a heat disorder. Whenever you go somewhere with a
different temperature than you’re used to, your skin and
circulation systems will work overtime to keep your body
temperature at a steady level. If your body gets overheated then it
will try to cool itself through the dilation of your blood vessels.
This dilation directs the blood away from the centre of your body
and towards the skin, which is what causes you to sweat in hot
weather! As this sweat on the skin’s surface evaporates, the
body cools down.

Because the heat causes you to sweat, it’s likely that
rapid dehydration will occur in hot, dry climates if you’re
not regularly topping up your liquid levels with water and sodium.
If you’re staying in a hot, humid climate, then this humidity
can mess with the rate that the sweat your body produces can
evaporate. This makes it difficult for your body to maintain a
steady body temperature and to keep you cool.

Although anyone can get a heat disorder, there are some people
who are more at risk than others. For example:

  • the elderly
  • young babies and children
  • those who already have a pre-existing medical condition
  • athletes, walkers, hikers, backpackers, or anyone else
    undertaking any strenuous physical activity

If you or anyone you’re travelling with fits one of these
categories, then you should stay on extra alert and make sure to
follow our guidelines on avoiding heat disorders in hot or humid
climates.

What can I do to avoid getting a heat disorder?

In general, if you’re sensitive to the heat, then you
should be drinking lots of fluids and sticking close to shady areas
as much as possible. To help you out, we’ve come up with five
top tips to help you reduce your risk of getting a heat disorder
while you’re staying somewhere super hot:

  • Water is your best friend! Remember to keep hydrated especially
    when it’s hot out. A good way to check your hydration levels
    is by checking the colour of your urine: if it’s dark, then
    you’re not drinking enough!
  • Wear loose, airy and light-coloured clothes to keep cool.
  • Try to limit any physical exertion or exercise until
    you’ve become better acclimatised to the hot weather. Your
    body temperature should have adapted to the higher temperature by
    around day 10 of your trip.
  • Buy a hand-held fan! These are fantastic little gadgets to take
    and you’ll be able to find them in most Superdrug
    stores.
  • Do as the locals do: people in hot countries take a siesta in
    the middle of the day for good reason! Try to avoid the sun during
    its hottest points which are usually between 11am and 3pm.

These tips should keep you covered for most things. However,
there are some more specific methods you should follow to reduce
the risk of different types of heat disorder.

Heat rash (‘prickly heat’)

This is a very common condition in hot and humid climates, and
this mild heat disorder tends to affect children most. Prickly heat
is caused when your sweat glands become blocked or congested by
bits of dead skin or bacteria, making it difficult for your body to
sweat in the normal way. This makes an uncomfortable, prickly
sensation in the skin around the neck, chest and back and can also
come with a rash and blisters. Here are a few of our top tips to
avoid prickly heat:

  • Try to take regular baths or showers to keep the skin clear
    from a build-up of bacteria or dead skin.
  • Use zinc, calamine lotion or castor oil cream to relieve the
    itch.
  • Try to wear light and loose clothing.

Fainting

Fainting happens when there is a temporary drop in the levels of
blood flow to the brain. When it’s really hot, you can faint
if you aren’t acclimatised yet to your surroundings. This is
caused as blood vessels dilate to increase circulation and radiate
heat from the skin in order to cool down. As this happens, your
blood sugar lowers and the blood supply to the brain gets reduced.
Some things to know about fainting:

In most if not all cases, consciousness should return very
quickly when you lie down flat upon the floor. Even if you just
feel a little faint, lying down very still on the ground for a few
minutes should be enough for the spell to pass.

Plenty of water and lots of rest in a cool room is usually
enough for anyone who’s fainted due to hot weather.

‘Oedema’ (swelling of the feet and hands)

It’s very common for a little swelling of the feet and hands when we’re first exposed to any really hot climate for the first time. It’s most likely to happen to female travellers, but it shouldn’t be a source of too much concern for anyone if it does happen. Swelling happens when in hot weather the blood supply to the skin increases and radiates even more heat. This makes the fluid from the blood vessels spread out into the skin tissue which causes a mild swelling. In most cases, there’s nothing much you can do to stop this from happening and it should calm down on its own after a while. If it lasts for a long time, or becomes painful in any way, then you should seek urgent medical advice.

Cramps

If you’re dedicated enough to be working out or exercising
in the midday sun, then it’s possible that you could get
heat-related cramps, which are usually in the calf, thigh or
abdomen muscles. As with all cramps, the best thing is rest, drink
plenty of water and do some gentle stretching.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can be really horrible. If you’ve got it,
you’re likely to be feeling tired, dizzy, faint, and could
also have a bad headache. Heat exhaustion is a version of extreme
tiredness due to a decrease in blood pressure. It happens when
you’re dehydrated or in the heat for a long period of time.
Treatment for heat exhaustion is usually intensive rehydration with
water and other fluids, but it can be easily avoided by following
these tips:

  • We might sound a bit like a broken record, but water really is
    necessary in the heat! Make sure to always keep a bottle of water
    with you when you’re out in a hot country and don’t get
    caught without one.
  • Sometimes you’ll need to replace the salt-levels in your
    body too, so water might not be enough. Ask someone at your local
    Superdrug Travel Clinic about rehydration sachets to take just in
    case.
  • If you’re stuck out in the heat without any pre-made
    formula, then you can make an easy (and delicious!) rehydration
    solution using just soda water, salt and lime juice.
  • Water’s great not just for drinking: bring a spray water
    bottle for your face and body to take while you’re out
    walking, or have a sponge down whenever you can!

Heatstroke

This is a more serious condition than heat exhaustion, and
happens when your body temperature is too high for too long and
you’ve not been able to follow the tips we’ve just
given.

With heatstroke, your body stops being able to cool itself down
using the normal mechanisms and begins to overheat. If you’ve
got heatstroke you’re likely to be feeling thirsty, nauseous,
confused, have rapid shallow breathing, dry skin and cramps.

This is treated as a medical emergency and, if you or one of
your fellow travellers have it, you’ll need urgent medical
attention. Usually, the treatment will be rehydration using
intravenous fluids and special ice packs to help the body cool
down. Make sure to call an ambulance as soon as possible if you
think someone has heatstroke, and help them in the meantime by
keeping them in a cool airy room, giving them water to drink (if
they’re awake) and by sponging their skin with cool
water.

‘Hyponatremia’ (low sodium levels in the
blood)

This is another more serious heat disorder and usually happens
if someone’s been exercising or doing anything really
strenuous in the hot weather. You lose sodium from your blood when
you’re sweating a lot and replacing it with just plain
water.

The symptoms of hyponatremia can be pretty vague but generally
include confusion, tiredness, weak muscles, headaches and nausea.
If it’s really severe, symptoms can include extreme confusion
or disorientation, agitation, seizures, or even coma. Watch out for
the person starting to act strangely, as this usually affects a
person’s mental state first, and find out if they’ve
had large amounts of plain water very recently. Again, if the
symptoms of this are extreme, then this is a medical emergency and
you should seek urgent medical attention as soon as possible.

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