Doctors warn of potential health problems as UAE temperatures soar

High humidity can increase risk of lung problems for asthmatics

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As peak summer temperatures nudge ever closer to 50°C, doctors in the UAE are urging people to take special measures to stay healthy during the hot spell.

Those working outdoors and children are most vulnerable to the health risks associated with extreme heat, and those with existing respiratory conditions should take extra care, doctors said.

Signs of heat stroke
  • The loss of sodium chloride in our sweat can lead to confusion and an altered mental status and slurred speech
  • Body temperature above 39°C
  • Hot, dry and red or damp skin can indicate heatstroke
  • A faster pulse than usual
  • Dizziness, nausea and headaches are also signs of overheating
  • In extreme cases, victims can lose consciousness and require immediate medical attention

Heat stroke and the effects of dehydration are more likely as a result of time spent outdoors, but as the humidity reaches 100 per cent this week, serious lung conditions are also possible.

“The temperatures this year are a little more than expected and we need to look at how the heat affects the body and our lungs in particular,” said Dr Sandeep Pargi, a pulmonologist at Prime Hospital in Al Garhoud, Dubai.

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Thankfully we don’t see many heatstroke cases, but everyone should recognise the signs so it can be treated fast
Dr Ram Shukla, NMC Royal Hospital, Sharjah

“The common problem during summer is humid air, as it is heavy and the oxygen content is slightly less making it difficult for those with chronic lung conditions.

“People can be breathless – this is a result of water vapour in the air.

“We are seeing cases of pleural effusion during summer, where there is a build-up of fluid between the layers of tissue that line the lungs and chest cavity.

“There is a strong correlation with this condition and hot weather.

“Generally this is more common in people with asthma, or anyone with allergies that react to certain things like sand or dust.

“We can keep a tab on the weather and avoid going out if it is particularly humid, especially from 11am until 3pm, usually the hottest time of day.”

Changing climate

Avoiding the heat is commonplace for many, but some whose jobs require them to work outside for hours at a time have little choice but to brave the searing summer temperatures.

The UAE launched its annual mandatory midday break for outdoor workers on June 15, restricting labour outside from 12.30pm until 3pm.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation policy is in place until September 15.

The UAE launched its annual mandatory midday break for outdoor workers on June 1. AFP

The risk of heat stroke could become a more familiar problem in years to come if average global temperatures continue to rise.

On Monday, July 3, the world’s average temperature reached a new high of 17°C for the first time.

While that reading is still well below the summer temperatures common in the Middle East, it points to a changing climate and the risk of more associated health problems in future.

While doctors said hospital admissions for heat stroke during summer were rare, people should be aware of the signs and symptoms and know how to respond, particularly if someone has an existing health condition.

“Thankfully we don’t see many heatstroke cases, but everyone should recognise the signs so it can be treated fast,” said Dr Ram Shukla, infectious disease specialist at NMC Royal Hospital, Sharjah.

“It has been a dry heat recently but now it is beginning to get very humid, which is worse for our health as we tend to sweat more and then lose salts and electrolytes very quickly.

“Children and anyone with a chronic health condition should take particular care.

"Diabetics, for example, are taking medicine that expels sugar in their urine, that increases the osmolality of urine making it thicker, almost like syrup.

“It dries out the body by removing water, so it should be a consideration.

“Hot dry skin, with a high body temperature and confusion with a slurred speech from a dry mouth are common signs and it can cause seizures or even be fatal."

How to protect and treat heat exhaustion

Do not drink excessive amounts of water to avoid water intoxication. Doctors say intake should be gradual.

People should cover up well and avoid the midday heat.

Wearing a cap is often seen as a good idea, but it can make the head sweat more, leading to more dehydration.

Wear loose-fitting headwear that is wet if possible when outdoors.

Anyone with suspected heat stroke should be taken out of the hot environment immediately and then be allowed to cool slowly.

Place cold towels under their arms to bring their temperature down.

Updated: July 06, 2023, 5:56 AM
Signs of heat stroke
  • The loss of sodium chloride in our sweat can lead to confusion and an altered mental status and slurred speech
  • Body temperature above 39°C
  • Hot, dry and red or damp skin can indicate heatstroke
  • A faster pulse than usual
  • Dizziness, nausea and headaches are also signs of overheating
  • In extreme cases, victims can lose consciousness and require immediate medical attention