Stay Hydrated and Keep Cool to Avoid Heat Stroke

2014
(Western Cape Government)

Temperatures in the Western Cape can rise to dangerous levels and everyone should be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Babies and the elderly are particularly at risk as are people working or exercising in a hot environment. People using chronic medication need to drink extra water during heat waves to ensure that their kidneys are not further stressed.

Heat stroke is often fatal and should be treated as a true medical emergency. Heat exhaustion is a less severe condition but can quickly progress to heat stroke if left untreated. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke occur when the body is unable to lower its temperature to normal levels by radiation through the skin or by sweating. Dehydration can cause heat stroke because the body is unable to sweat fast enough to dissipate the heat.

General Prevention (All Ages)

  • Stay out of the sun if at all possible.
  • Wear a hat to protect the head from the sun and use an umbrella for shade.
  • Use a small wet towel or cloth under hats or on shoulders to help keep cool.
  • Stay hydrated; at the current temperatures, staying hydrated is most important.
  • Always carry water with you.
  • Should you use a chronic medication remember that becoming dehydrated places extra stress on the kidneys; drink ample clean water.
  • Use a rehydration solution if you are thirsty even though you are drinking water.
  • Mix the following together in a clean bottle: one litre of water, eight teaspoons of sugar and ½ a teaspoon of salt.
  • This is safe for all ages to drink, especially for those people who work or exercise outdoors.
  • Ensure that the elderly and infirm have access to water.

Tips for Babies and Children

Babies:

  • Breastfeed on demand.
  • This is to ensure that the baby stays hydrated - mothers must remember to also drink a lot of water.
  • Take your baby to the clinic at the first sign of diarrhoea.
  • Keep babies in the shade or indoors.
  • Keep them cool by using a damp cloth to wipe them down.
  • Do not cover babies in a lot of clothing and blankets; light clothing is sufficient.

Older Children:

  • Keep babies and children in the shade.
  • Avoid sports activities if possible.
  • Ensure that there is a lot of water and rehydration solution available.
  • Ensure that children wear hats.

Tips for Those Working Outside

This is for sports people, teachers and employers of builders, gardeners and others forced to work outside:

  • Keep the head covered.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Take regular, short breaks in the shade.
  • When taking a break, pour water over your head to help the body cool down.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion/Stroke

Heat stroke can be fatal and should be treated as a medical emergency. Heat exhaustion is a less severe condition but can quickly progress to heat stroke if left untreated. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke occur when the body is unable to lower its temperature to normal levels through the skin or by sweating. Dehydration can cause heat stroke because the body is unable to sweat fast enough to dissipate the heat.

Signs of heat exhaustion

  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Paleness.
  • Tiredness and weakness.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Dizziness.

If the symptoms are severe or the victim has a heart condition or high blood pressure, seek urgent medical help.

Give the person the oral rehydration solution described above. Do not add too much salt - the mixture should taste like tears. Sports drinks or commercial oral rehydration solution are also effective. If the symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour, seek urgent medical attention.

Remember:
Children under two years are at high risk of dehydration leading rapidly to death, particularly if they have diarrhoea and/or vomiting. Use the sugar-salt solution to help them not to dry out. Seek medical attention as soon as you possibly can.

The content on this page was last updated on 14 February 2014