Severe heat and not drinking enough fluids can lead to dehydration and heatstroke, which can be fatal.
According to the Western Cape Department of Health, the summer heat brings with it a high risk of dehydration, which is a harmful loss of water in the body.
Dehydration is usually caused by not drinking enough liquids to replenish the water lost by sweating. It can also be caused by an illness, that causes vomiting or diarrhoea; and by sweating from a fever.
The loss of body fluids does not only occur during hard physical activities, but can also result from walking, gardening or riding a bike, especially in hot or humid conditions.
When you are dehydrated, your body cannot function as usual. Children younger than five, the elderly and people working outdoors are especially vulnerable to dehydration and heatstroke (a condition caused when your body overheats).
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Seek medical help immediately for any of these symptoms:
- Feeling confused or your speech starts to become slow and unclear.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Rapid, shallow breathing.
- Heart starts to race.
- A throbbing headache.
Dehydration warning signs
Some of the early warning signs of dehydration include:
- feeling thirsty and lightheaded.
- a dry mouth.
- having dark coloured, strong-smelling urine.
- passing urine less often than usual.
To stay hydrated and avoid heatstroke you should:
- drink more water than you usually do on hot days.
- stay inside or in shaded areas.
- wear a wide rim hat or use an umbrella.
- always carry a bottle of water with you and drink regularly.
- take regular breaks from the sun if you work outside.
- cool yourself down by using a spray bottle.
Babies and children
Parents and caregivers should pay extra attention to children and babies, to make sure they are hydrated.
Breastfeeding moms should feed their babies more frequently when it is very hot.
Keep children indoors or in the shade, dress them in light clothing and wipe them down with a damp cloth to help them stay cool. Remember to apply sunscreen when they go outdoors.
If children younger than five have watery stools, keep vomiting and are tired, seek medical help immediately. Also seek immediate medical care if your baby is unable to breastfeed or has sunken eyes and a sunken soft spot (fontanelle) on its head.
In children, other dehydration warning signs include:
- a dry or sticky mouth.
- few or no tears when crying.
- urinating less or fewer wet nappies than usual.
- dry, cool skin.
- drowsiness or dizziness.