7 ways to beat the Singapore heat

PHOTO: 7 ways to beat the Singapore heat

In April 2010, a construction carpenter Chen Changqin, 42, suffered a heatstroke at his workplace after working long hours under the sun at a Choa Chu Kang condominium.

He is now physically impaired and is unable to speak.

Hyperthermia, which is the overheating of the body, is no laughing matter. If left untreated, it can lead to seizures, brain damage, liver and kidney problems and even heart attacks and coma.

It can even lead to death in extreme cases. In 2009, a construction worker from China died after working for five hours at a scorching Kranji worksite.

According to reports, he could not acclimatise to the heat here as the temperatures in his home village rarely exceeded 11 deg C.

This message of how dangerous overheating can be is especially pertinent as temperatures here are only expected to soar in the coming weeks.

According to the Meteorological Service Singapore, the daily maximum temperatures in the coming weeks may hit 34 deg C, up from 32.7 deg C.

Average rainfall is also likely to fall, all signs of sweltering nights ahead. Data from NTU's weather station revealed that there have been only four days of rain for this month so far, as compared to 15 last year.

Less rain means there is less moisture in the ground to absorb heat from the sun.

The sweltering heat has also sent up the number of patients seeking help from hospitals. Changi General Hospital saw its patient load for heat related cases rise from 14 cases last year to 19 this year in the same period.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital saw a similar rise, from eight such cases in the first six months of last year to 11 patients with heat disorders from January to June 21.

How to protect yourself

How to protect yourself against heatstroke

First of all, it's important to be aware of the risks and take the necessary precautions.

People who are in greater risk of suffering from heat-related ailments include young children, the elderly, people who are overweight, exercise buffs and those chronically ill or on certain medications.

According to Dr Tay Seow Yian, Senior Consultant and Head of Emergency Department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, some medications used for tremors and diarrhea, certain anesthetics and psychiatric drugs, and diseases such as thyrotoxicosis can cause a heightened risk to hyperthermia.

If you tick yes for any of these conditions, pay extra attention to keeping yourself cool and hydrated.

Self diagnosis: What are the symptoms of a heatstroke?

There are 3 main groups of heat diseases: Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The first, heat cramps, are muscle spasms that result from loss of large amounts of salt and water through exercise and are considered relatively minor, said Dr Benny Goh, Senior Consultant at the Accidents and Emergencies department at the Changi General Hospital.

They may be painful and uncomfortable, but usually will resolve on their own upon termination of the physical activity.

Heat exhaustion on the other hand is a more severe manifestation of heat disorder that, if untreated, can cause significant morbidity and even mortality, Dr Goh told YourHealth.

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat disorder and is a medical emergency. Even with treatment, it can result in permanant organ injury and even death, he warned.

To prevent escalation of the condition, it is best to be self-aware of your own body condition.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Light-headedness / dizziness/ giddiness / feeling faint
  • Fainting during or immediately after strenuous physical activity
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Agitation / disorientation / delirious behaviour

What to do

What to do

If someone shows any signs of heat disorders, take him/her to a shady area and try to cool the person down, Dr Goh advised.

Call for help immediately and while waiting, use a wet towel to wrap around the neck, armpit or groin area or splash water on him or her to help reduce the body temperature.

Help the person drink some water if they are able to do so. If he or she is having a seizure, do not give the person liquids. If there's vomiting, it's best to turn them onto their sides so that their airways remain open.

Keep in mind that heat stroke is an emergency, so do call for an ambulance, said Dr Tay.

Do's and Don't's: Simple prevention measures

1. Be prepared

Many patients admitted to hospital for heatstroke are athletes who spend (too) many hours out in the sun.

As such, it's advisable to get adequate rest before engaging in strenuous physical activity, Dr Tay said.

Keep in mind as well that running in the gym is very different from running out under the sun. Many victims of the heat are people unfamiliar with Singapore's humidity and temperatures.

Dr Goh advised to give your body adequate time to acclimatise to any physical activity that you intend to take part in. The duration of acclimatisation should also be proportional to the intensity of physical activity.

So if you intend to participate in a marathon, do practise in the open under similar outdoor conditions.

2. Hydration

In addition, be prepared by bringing along a water bottle and staying hydrated.

Without adequate fluid intake and with excessive fluid loss, dehydration may occur. Dehydration further leads to the body not being able to dispel heat fast enough, thus leading to overheating.

Dr Goh cautioned outdoor buffs to not wait until they are thirsty to drink. You should constantly hydrate yourself before, during, and after any prolonged physical activity, even if you do not feel thirsty.

Sports drinks are a good choice for replacing salt lost through sweating, but water is fine as well.

3. Clothing

Wearing the appropriate outfit can help to reduce the heat built up surrounding your body. Loose clothing also helps improve the ventilation around your body.

This helps to allow sweat to evaporate, which is one of the body's cooling mechanisms.

Choose clothing made from breathable or heat-wicking material to help remove heat from your body. Avoid thick, excessive or restrictive clothing or padding.

Note that light coloured clothing dissipates heat better and darker clothing traps heat.

When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Hence, it is advisable to bring along a towel or piece of cloth to wipe away excess sweat to help your body cool down.

4. Ventilation

Keep to spaces with moving air and plenty of airspace. This helps the body cool itself by sweating.

The same applies if you are indoors. Keep the area well ventilated and cool by opening windows, using a fan or switching on the air-con during excessively hot days.

5. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or heavy meals

According to Dr Goh, heavy meals divert blood flow away to aid digestion resulting in extra heat to your body.

Alcoholic and caffeinated drinks are also undesirable as they cause your body to dehydrate. So avoid taking such food and drinks if you plan to engage in any sport activities outdoors.

6. Use sunscreen

Excessive amount of time spent under the sun can cause sunburn. Sunburn is not only painful, it affects the body's ability to cool itself and results in the loss of body fluids.

As such, err on the side of caution and use sunscreen, preferably with SPF protection no lower than 15.

7. Limit yourself

If you are unwell, or have just recovered from an illness like a flu or cold, do not take part in intense physical activity.

Otherwise, you should get adequate sleep and fluids prior to the event.