Understanding a few basic health risks is the first step to protecting your family’s health when out in the sun.
However, even as the weather gradually gets cooler, there are still some important health risks to consider. Each year, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) issues public service announcements highlighting the dangers of not taking the necessary precautions when out and about in the hotter weather. These reminders should apply throughout the year to ensure not only your safety, but that of your loved ones.
Coping with the hot weather safely
With the reopening of the beaches and pools at hotels, many families will be heading to the coast or a swimming pool to enjoy the good weather.
Much as we all like to feel the sun’s warm rays on us, it is imperative that we are mindful of the amount of time we spend outdoors in the summer, and at what time of day – the temperature and strength of the sun is obviously stronger at midday than at 5 am or 8 pm.
The temperature in Qatar can still be high during the autumn months, so don’t be fooled into thinking that you are less at risk of suffering under the strength of the sun as the year goes on.
Children and older adults are more at risk of heat-related illnesses as they are unable to adjust to environmental conditions quickly enough. Chronic medical conditions such as heart disease or obesity may impede the body’s ability to cool down sufficiently, as can taking certain medications for hypertension or depression. Children should ideally remain indoors during the hottest part of the day or stay in the shade if outside.
The first sign of overdoing things is dehydration, which if not rectified can lead to heat cramps and exhaustion. This in turn may cause heatstroke, a serious condition that requires immediate, emergency treatment.
Mild to moderate dehydration can usually be dealt with easily by drinking more fluids and being sensible about how long to stay outside for. Affected people should feel better within 30 to 45 minutes.
Heatstroke occurs when your body is overheating, usually due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures or physical exertion. Symptoms include high body temperature, change in sweating, nausea and vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart rate and headache.
The first thing to do is cool the body down: remove excessive clothing, spray with cool water, sit in front of a fan, move into the shade, go indoors to an air conditioned building or sit in a vehicle, and take a cool shower. Drink water or a sports drink to recover, and place a cool pack or cloth on the neck.
As well as ensuring you drink sufficient amounts of fluids, take care to also look after your skin and avoid the pain of sunburn. Have plenty of good quality sunscreen and sunblock with you, ideally applied before going outside, and reapply regularly, especially after going for a swim.
A child’s skin burns much more easily than an adult’s. Children under 12 months old should be kept out of direct sun and older children will require adequate sun protection – remember the ‘slip, slop, slap, seek and slide’ mantra:
- Slip on clothing to protect your child from the sun and when your child is swimming or doing other water activities.
- Slop on sunscreen: broad spectrum, water resistant, SPF 30+ or higher, and in date. Apply 20 minutes before going out into the sun and reapply every two hours or after swimming. It is not recommended to use sunscreen on babies under six months of age.
- Slap on a hat that protects the face, neck, ears and head.
- Seek shade and avoid UV rays reflected from nearby objects like windows. Cover prams with a shade cloth or canopy.
- Slide on sunglasses that are close-fitting and wrap-around.
These tips are useful for preventing sunburn whatever your age!
Watch your children at all times
Families need to take extra care when going to beaches or swimming pools to avoid the risk of drowning. Unfortunately, this is the third leading cause of death from unintentional injuries worldwide.
The number of deaths from children drowning continues to rise each year and is one of the leading cause of death and disability among children in Qatar. According to Hamad International Training Center (HITC), 90% of all drowning cases are for children under the age of 10, and 70% under the age of 4.
These incidents occur as children may be left unsupervised by parents or caregivers at the beach or swimming pool. HITC offers the following safety advice:
- Check the weather forecast before going to the beach – avoid inclement weather such as strong winds and high waves.
- Follow appropriate safety guidelines when going to the beach or swimming pool.
- Supervise children constantly to prevent unintended access to water sources – remember that drowning can take seconds to happen.
- Teach your children to swim or enrol them for classes with a certified trainer.
- Make sure children wear lifejackets or a flotation aid when in or near water.
- Learn how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and keep a first aid kit to hand.
- Drowning doesn’t only happen in swimming pools or in the ocean; your child could easily drown in a bathtub. Always close the doors to bathrooms and swimming pools immediately after use.
- In the event of an emergency, call 999 and request immediate assistance.
Don’t leave children (or pets) in hot cars!
Children and animals should never be left unattended in a car that is parked in the sun, even for a short time. Just 10 minutes spent in the sun can raise the temperature inside the car by 10 degrees.
In the summer, the internal temperature can be as much as 40˚C hotter than outside; on a cool day, it can still be 20˚C hotter.
According to Dr Rafael Consunji, Director of the Hamad Injury Prevention Program at the Hamad Trauma Center, ‘Most of this temperature rise can happen within the first five minutes of turning off the engine and air conditioning, putting children left inside the vehicles at great risk for high fever, dehydration, seizures, heat stroke, and even death. Hot days bring dangers for everyone, but for children, the dangers are magnified. A child’s temperature will rise five times faster than an adult’s temperature, especially on hot days, increasing their risk for dehydration and heat stroke.’
If parents need to leave the car for whatever reason, children should be taken with them. The air conditioner can be left on in the car, providing there is an adult remaining with them – leaving children unattended with the air conditioner on in the car is just as dangerous due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning through the air vents or the possibility of the cooling system breaking down. Venting the windows will have little to no impact on reducing the internal heat, as do the colour of the car’s interior or size of the car.
And don’t forget that if you leave your child unattended in the car, they might take it upon themselves to play with the keys and accidentally lock themselves in and you out. Get in the habit of checking the back seat to ensure everyone is out before locking up.
Author: Sarah Palmer
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