Heatwave scorches Pakistan
Image Credit: REUTERS

The impact of climate change is becoming more evident with rising temperatures, and forecasts around the world predict higher than normal temperatures throughout the summer.

With Eid Al Adha being the hottest day of the year in the UAE (at 49.4°C) so far, and heat alerts being issued in several countries as scorching temperatures become more common, it is essential to take precautions to protect yourself from the heat and extreme weather. It is important to be aware of the impact extreme heat can have on your health, identify the signs, know what steps to take, and arrange your summer plans accordingly.

Additionally, it is imperative to know who is more vulnerable and ensure they take extra precautions (e.g., do not leave your child unattended in the car, as doing so is also a violation of the law. Similarly, do not leave your pets in the car unattended).

An “extreme heat event” is a prolonged episode of hot environmental conditions. Heat warnings are usually issued in different countries when the temperature is at or higher than a certain level for two or more consecutive days. With climate change, the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme heat events are expected to increase.

Who is at more risk?

Seniors, children, those with chronic conditions such as heart disease, obesity, or respiratory (lung) disease, those with mental health conditions, people taking medications, individuals who are bedridden or have difficulty in self-care, those in low socioeconomic situations, people with poor social support, and those working outdoors are all at increased risk of being impacted by extreme heat. While physical activity is important and has health benefits, exercising in extreme heat also increases the risk of heat illness.

To manage and prevent heat-related illness, it is crucial to know your risks. Talk to your family doctor to see if you fall under a higher risk category. Keep up with news, weather reports, and forecasts of any upcoming extreme weather (it is helpful to check this before planning an outdoor activity or trip). Additionally, always check your city’s local guidelines and recommendations.

Steps you can take to help with the heat include ensuring you are adequately hydrated, wearing appropriate clothing, shading yourself from the heat (and applying sunscreen), eating and drinking items that help keep you cool, and limiting outdoor activities during midday. Make sure your AC is working adequately and get to know the closest air-conditioned building/mall/centre open to the public where you can cool off.

It is also very important to reach out to your vulnerable family members, friends, and neighbours to check on how they are handling the heat and taking appropriate steps to protect themselves.

Someone experiencing heat illness usually has symptoms such as dizziness, feeling faint, headache, nausea, increased thirst, or a fast heart rate or breathing. If you experience these symptoms, go to a cool environment, drink fluids, and, depending on the severity or risk, seek medical attention.

One also has to be careful while staying indoors, as during extreme heat events, indoor temperatures can also rise in homes, classrooms, and workplaces (especially if there is no AC).

As we navigate these increasingly hot summers, it’s crucial to prioritise our health and safety. By staying informed, taking preventive measures, and looking out for one another, we can mitigate the risks posed by extreme heat. Remember, climate change may continue to push temperatures higher, making our collective effort to adapt and protect ourselves more important than ever.

Dr. Farhan M. Asrar is associated with the University of Toronto, Dalla Lana School of Public Health and McMaster University