How To Stay Healthy In Heat And Humidity
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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’
- swelling in your hands, feet or legs
- muscle cramp
… but can also get more serious. Some major heat disorders include:
- heat exhaustion
- ‘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 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.
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 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!
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.