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Health & Safety

HMC Cautions Public Against Heat-Related Illnesses

HMC children at risk of dehydration

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.

Each summer, hundreds of patients are treated at HMC Emergency Departments and Paediatric Emergency Centres for heat-related illnesses. Between April and November 2017, over 1,000 heat-related illnesses were reported at Hamad General Hospital, with the largest number of patients seen in late August and early September.

According to Dr Mohamed Al Amri, Senior Consultant for Paediatric Emergency Medicine, 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.

He said that children are also at an increased risk of dehydration and overheating because they sweat less and produce more heat when exercising. He said 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.’

Dr Al Amri also warns against leaving babies and young children unattended in vehicles or other enclosed spaces. He said that even on a cool day, the temperature inside a car can quickly rise to a dangerous level.

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 air conditioner vents. A child left in a hot car is at risk of dehydration, heatstroke, and even death.

According to Dr Al Amri, knowing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses are important in their prevention. These symptoms can range from blisters on the skin in the case of sunburn, to headache and loss of consciousness in cases of heat exhaustion.

Elderly and Outdoor Workers

Dr Hanadi Al Hamad, Chairperson of HMC Department of Geriatrics and Long Term Care, said the elderly are also vulnerable to high temperatures and heat-related illness. She said that older people may have diminished sensations, especially those who have dementia or diabetes and may not be aware they are thirsty or hot. She said that 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 older, 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. It is important that we frequently check on our elderly family members, friends, and neighbours to make sure they are safe, especially those who are living alone, have chronic medical conditions, or have difficulty caring for themselves.’

HMC Senior Consultant of Emergency Medicine Dr Warda Al Saad cautions those who work outdoors to take precautions against heat-related illnesses. She said that the sun is at its hottest between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. HMC receives the biggest number of patients with heat-related illnesses during these hours.

To avoid heat-related illnesses, outdoor workers should increase their water and fluid consumption. They should be drinking regularly throughout the day so that they don’t get thirsty. Avoiding direct sunlight between 10 am and 4 pm is also recommended.

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