Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is cautioning the public about the importance of protecting children, the elderly, outdoor workers, and others who may be vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.
Between April and November 2017, over 1,000 heat-related illnesses were reported at Hamad General Hospital’s Emergency Department, with the largest number of patients seen in late August and early September.
“Children are more sensitive to heat and cold stress than adults and are more susceptible to dehydration and heat illnesses. Heat tolerance is directly affected by body size and children have a lower ability to tolerate heat,” says Dr Mohamed al-Amri, senior consultant, Paediatric Emergency Medicine.
He stated that children are also at an increased risk of dehydration and overheating because they sweat less and produce more heat when exercising. Children may not recognise when they are thirsty or may get distracted and ignore the signs of thirst, not wanting to interrupt their play time.
“Parents should limit their child’s outdoor playtime and encourage playing under shaded areas. Without precautions, children can develop sunburn, heat rash, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion,” he cautions.
Dr al-Amri also warns of the risk of leaving babies and young children unattended in vehicles or other enclosed spaces. He says even on a cool day, the temperature inside a car can quickly rise to a dangerous level.
“Children should never be left unattended in a vehicle. Young children left alone in a vehicle may play with the car’s ignition, accidentally stop the engine, or lock themselves in. The temperature in a vehicle parked in direct sunlight can quickly rise, placing occupants at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning as the gas can come through the air conditioner vents. A child left in a hot car is at risk of dehydration, heatstroke, and even death,” noted Dr al-Amri.
According to Dr al-Amri, knowing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses are important in their prevention. He says these can range from blisters on the skin, in the case of sunburn, to a headache and loss of consciousness in cases of heat exhaustion.
Dr Hanadi al-Hamad, chairperson of HMC’s Department of Geriatrics and Long Term Care, says the elderly are also vulnerable to high temperatures and heat-related illness.
She says older people may have diminished sensations, especially those who have dementia or diabetes and may not be aware they are thirsty or hot.
Relatives, friends, or neighbours of elderly individuals should be on the lookout for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
“The elderly are at higher risk of developing heat-related illnesses and need special care and attention during the hot summer months. People of advanced age, especially those aged 65 and above, can rapidly develop serious and life-threatening conditions such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. They are also at risk of developing complications to existing medical conditions,” she added.