It’s becoming a norm these days for European countries to be experiencing bouts of heatwave during the summer season. Heatwave has serious health implications, such as sunburn, skin cancer, heat cramps and heat exhaustion, and in more severe cases such as heat stroke, it can prove to be fatal if not treated properly and immediately. With temperatures soaring to as high as 36 degrees celcius – even hotter than some parts of Asia – it is therefore important to ensure that you take all necessary precautions before heading for Europe this summer, particularly worst-hit countries like Spain, Germany, Greece, Italy, France and London.
How heat affects the body
Humans naturally dissipate excessive heat from their body by perspiration. But sweating alone does not help cool the body, unless the sweat is quickly evaporated. High levels of humidity which is often associated with heatwave hinders the process of evaporation.
When heat gained by the body exceeds the amount of heat the body dissipates, and when the salt & water lost through perspiration is not quickly replaced, this would cause a chemical imbalance in the body as the body’s temperature rises and the body continues to lose more water and salt, leading in heat-related symptoms.
Preventative measures in the event of a heatwave
Don’t wait until it’s too late – prevention is still better than cure. It is best to follow the steps as outlined below to avoid developing symptoms associated to heatwave.
Slap on lots of sunscreen
Apply some sunscreen all over your body before going out into the sun. Use a high SPF no lower than 30. If you sweat excessively while wearing it, make sure that you keep reapplying the sunscreen once every hour or more. This could prevent you from getting sunburn, and thus developing skin cancer in the long run.
Drink plenty of plain water
Carry a 2-litre bottle of plain water, preferably mineral water, with you at all times, to replenish the fluid lost through sweating. Sip from the bottle regularly from time to time. Refrain from taking diuretics such as caffeinated drinks (cola, coffee & tea) which help disperse liquid from your body faster, as well as carbonated drinks. Avoid alcohol at all costs.
Sweaty and oily skin is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, leading to all kinds of skin problems. However, more than just for hygienic purposes, dousing yourself in cold water every now and then helps to reduce body temperature and cool down the body. Do not take hot baths as this helps evaporate moisture from your body faster.
Wear appropriate clothing
Wear something cool and light on your body. Cotton is best as it provides good ventilation as well as absorbs sweat effectively. Wear white or light colours and refrain from wearing black as it absorbs the heat faster. Shield your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays with UV-protective sunglasses. Wear a large, wide-brimmed hat on your head or carry a large umbrella with you – you may look silly, but it’s better to be silly than sorry. Wear comfortable, breathable shoes – preferably open-toe sandals – to minimize the chances of getting painful blisters and chafing on your feet as you walk around in the hot weather.
Carry the barest minimum
Make sure you only carry what is absolutely necessary on you when you walk around town in the hot sun. Carrying excessive load such as a huge backpack only makes you sweat more and exhausts you faster. Just bring passport, money, keys, sunscreen, mineral water, travelcards and some medications, plus a few essentials.
Avoid peak travel times
In most large cities in Europe, the entire transport network, especially the subway, is at its busiest during peak hours, which is generally from 12 noon to 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and all day during the weekends, especially on Saturday. Some of them have no proper ventilation and air-conditioning system to cope with the extreme heat during summer, so it can be very hot and stifling inside which further increase the risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Avoid travelling during peak hours – if you can’t avoid it, try not to take the public transportation.
Stock up on a lot of carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread, rice and potatoes, to help you sustain your energy during the hot days. Taking these food constantly in moderate amounts could help boost your energy levels and help your body to function better in such conditions. Decrease your intake of protein such as meat and nuts as it increases your metabolic rate, thus resulting in the production of more heat within your body.
Get plenty of rest.
Do not literally exhaust yourself to death. Get adequate rest in-between travels, and get a good night’s sleep at the end of it. A tired and sleep-deprived body only increases your chances of suffering from heat exhaustion, especially since European daylight time is often much longer during summer, especially up north where it can last up to 18 hours.
Bear in mind that those who are most vulnerable to heat-related symptoms are children, elderly people, those on medications and those with weight and alcohol problems, so be extra vigilant and prudent when travelling in the company of such people.
In the event of more serious symptoms such as severe heat exhaustion and heat stroke, do not panic. Carry the afflicted person to a cooler place and try to further bring down the body temperature by cold-water sponging and fanning. Do not give them water under any circumstance – this could prove to be lethal. Call for medical help immediately – do not delay any longer than what is necessary.