Heatwaves – How to deal with this ?

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Let us learn what are heatwaves and heat strokes, the impact of heatwaves on human lives and the diseases they cause. This further explains the preventive measures to be taken while constructing a house and how to safeguard yourself from heat waves in future.

This article will give an overview of what you can do to protect yourself and your family during summer heatwaves !

During the adverse times, besides calamities such as World War and earthquakes, we may face heatwaves. In the past few years, temperatures have rose significantly not just in India but in Europe too. Arctic glaciers have been melting for many years now due to rising temperatures. Many people also fall prey to some diseases as a result of excessive heat. In India, many people die of heatstroke every year. Hence, it is essential to learn about heatwaves.


1. What causes heatwaves ?

According to the Indian Meteorological Department, heat waves form whenever the average temperature rises by 4.5°C – 6.5°C. For plains, the temperature above 40°C, 30°C or more for hilly regions and 37°C or more for coastal areas may cause heat waves. Heatwaves are particularly dangerous as they impair our ability to regulate the body temperature.


2. Effects of heatwaves

Heatwaves in 2003 led to 70,000 more deaths when compared to the deaths in the earlier years. Heatwaves wreak havoc in many ways – they cause flash floods, forest fires, twisting of railway tracks, indefinite flight delays, etc.

A. Heatwaves may lead to heatstrokes

Heatstroke is an illness caused by prolonged exposure to intense sunlight or to extreme weather fluctuations (one caused by going out in harsh sunlight from an air-conditioned room or vice-versa). Under such conditions, our body temperature suddenly increases to 104°F or more. If unchecked, such an elevated temperature may lead to death. This phenomenon is called heatstroke or sunstroke.

B. The severity of heatwaves

In 2015, more than 1,400 people died due to heatstrokes in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana alone.

C. Heatwaves may prove to be very deadly in the coming adverse times

No one is immune to the disastrous impact of global warming. We all have suffered because of rising temperatures in some shape or form, and this trend is not likely to reverse any time soon. The glaciers in Antarctica are melting; the temperature in Europe had risen to 30°C on several days. There is a high probability that it may climb even further. According to a thesis published in ‘Environment Research Letters’, 120 crore people may die of heatstroke every year over the next century.


3. Illnesses caused by excessive heat

We may have to deal with a health emergency during summers, in scorching hot weather or during heatwaves. This emergency typically manifests in three phases –

A. Heat cramps

B. Heat exhaustion

C. Heat stroke

If proper treatment is not given to the individual when he initially suffers from heat cramps, he may have to face heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Also, these conditions don’t need to be necessarily in this order. At times, we may suffer from heat exhaustion or a heat stroke directly without any warning. Hence, we should treat all three phases seriously. We should see to it that the patient gets necessary medical assistance as soon as possible. We should give him first-aid till he gets proper medical treatment.

A. Heat cramps

Heat cramps are painful, brief muscle cramps. These cramps typically impact muscles such as the calves, thighs, shoulders and the abdominal wall. At times, they cause heavy sweating as well. One often experiences heat cramps as a result of fatigue due to heavy work. Heat cramps may also manifest with some lag after intense work.

Till the time the patient gets medical treatment :

1. Take him to a relatively cooler surrounding, avoid exposure to direct sunlight.

2. Gently massage the cramped muscles. Later, slowly stretch these muscles.

3. Give him either cold water or an electrolyte to drink after every 15 minutes.

B. Heat exhaustion

In this phase, the core body temperature may rise to 101°F – 104°F. Along with rising temperature, heat exhaustion leads to excessive sweating. The skin turns pale and cold. If the skin is dark, you can notice the change in colour of the skin close to the nails, lips and the lower eyelids. The other symptoms include headache, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, feeling very thirsty, lethargic, muscle pain or muscle cramps, irritability, anxiety and dizziness.

Till the time the patient gets medical treatment :

1. Take him to a relatively cooler surrounding, avoid exposure to direct sunlight.

2. Loosen his clothes.

3. Keep a cold and wet towel or strips of damp cloth on his face, neck, chest and legs.

4. Make him sit under a ceiling fan so that the air cools him down.

5. Give him either cold water or alkaline water (1 teaspoon of salt in 500 ml of water) every 15 minutes. (Do not allow him to drink too much water at once.)

C. Heat stroke

We may call a heat stroke a health emergency caused on account of excessive heat. Since it is the third and final stage of this health emergency, the patient may die if medical help is not given in time. In this phase, the core body temperature rises to 104°F or more. The other symptoms include an altered mental state and associated behaviour, delirium, dry, hot and red skin, alteration in sweating, rapid breathing, low blood pressure, rapid and shallow breathing, epileptic seizures and fainting.

Till the time the patient gets medical treatment :

1. Take him to a relatively cooler surrounding, avoid exposure to direct sunlight.

2. Loosen his clothes.

3. Keep a cold and wet towel or strips of damp cloth on his face, neck, chest and legs. If possible, wipe the entire body with a piece of a cold and wet cloth or help him bathe with cold water.

4. Keep ice cubes/cold pack on his head, forehead, thighs, wrists and underarms.

– Dr Durgesh Samant, Sanatan Ashram, Ramnathi, Goa.


4. Precautions to be taken to protect yourself from heatwaves

If heatwaves are a frequent phenomenon for your area or if the summers are hotter than usual, the following measures will help.

A. Keep the rooftop and walls cold

If your house has a concrete slab roof, the following measures will help you to keep it cool. You can grow vegetables and flowers on the rooftop. These can be grown collectively in compartments of soil or separately in individual pots.

This will reduce the harm caused by heat. You can also grow different vines and climbers on the walls to keep them relatively colder.

B. Paste a temporary cover on the window glass

You can use vetiver curtains or cardboard during the summers as a temporary cover to prevent exposure to direct sunlight. Alternatively, you can install heat-reflecting windows.

C. Installing an air-conditioner at home

If possible, you can install an air-conditioner at home to keep it cooler during heatwaves.

D. Do this while building a new home

As you have the liberty to select the material and other things while constructing a new house, you can use some specific materials and follow these general guidelines to protect yourself from heat. The walls should be thick. If possible, construct hollow walls. Hollow walls, as the name suggests, have a hollow space in the middle. You can also think of them as two skins separated by a hollow. Such a structure keeps the inner wall cooler. Use limestone or clay while painting. In olden times, mud houses used to be built which were cooler from inside. Do not use glass wherever possible. You can also consult experts before finalising the plan.

Ref.: ‘Taiyari me hi samazdari : Aapada se bachane ke saral upay’


5. Do this to protect yourself from heatwaves

A. Drink as much water as necessary

When it comes to drinking water during the summers, do not wait till the last moment. When you feel thirsty, drink water in sufficient quantity that satiates your thirst and helps you recover from weakness. The quantity may vary from individual to individual.

B. Avoid drinking chilled water from the refrigerator

Do not drink chilled water from the refrigerator. Instead, drink water from an earthen pot, or a pot that has rose petals or vetiver. These are natural coolers. Chilled water from the refrigerator or a water cooler adversely affects the throat, teeth and intestines. Hence, either drink water from an earthen pot or water that is at room temperature. Additionally, include seasonal fruits such as cucumber, watermelon, muskmelon and pomegranate in your diet.

C. Consume plenty of fluids

Include fluids such as lemon juice, panhe (a drink made from unripe mango), lassi (a sweet drink made from curds), buttermilk, cooked rice water, ORS (Oral Dehydration Solution), coconut water, kokum juice, fruit juice, etc. in your diet during summers. Consult a doctor if you were advised not to consume these drinks due to your medical condition or if you are suffering from any heart or liver-related diseases or fits.

D. Drink khus (vetiver) water

Keep some vetiver roots in your house since they have some unique medicinal properties. On day one, you can keep one root in the water pot and keep another in the sun to dry. The next day, put the dried vetiver grass root in the water pot and the wet one in the sun to dry. You should follow this sequence every day. This medicinal water naturally treats many heat-related illnesses.

protection from heatwave
Avoid heatwave

E. Avoid dark colour clothes

Dark colour clothes absorb heat, and hence, preferably wear loose, light-colour cotton clothes.

F. Take care while going out

Whenever you go out, either wear a hat, a headscarf or carry an umbrella. Also, wear sunglasses and apply sunscreen to the portion of skin that is not covered by clothing.

G. Take care of small children & elderly people

Take special care of the children, the sick, the overweight and the elderly people during summers since they are most susceptible to heat-related illnesses. During summers, they can become restless, and hence, you should take good care of this group.

H. Take care while working outdoors

Those who work outdoors should avoid going out in the harsh sun and rest in this period.

I. Take care of the person suffering from heatstroke

To reduce the body temperature of one who is suffering from heatstroke, place a wet cloth on his forehead. Make sure to place a damp cloth by soaking it periodically in water. However, if the person feels dizzy or restless, immediately contact a doctor.

(Ref.: ‘Taiyari me hi samazdari : Aapada se bachane ke saral upay’)

J. Some other tips

After brushing teeth in the morning, put 2 drops of cow ghee or coconut oil into your nostrils. This treatment is called ‘Nasya’ (meaning concerning the nose). This reduces the heat from your head and eyes.

When you move from a hotter environment to a cooler one, wait for 10-15 minutes before you drink water.

If you have cracked heels or suffer from heat-related illnesses, apply mehndi (Henna) on your hands and feet.

– Vaidya Meghraj Paradkar, Sanatan Ashram, Ramnathi, Goa. (8.4.2014)


6. Avoid doing this to protect yourself from heat!

A. Avoid going out unless necessary. If it is unavoidable, do not go barefoot. Specifically, do not venture out from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

B. Avoid cooking food in the afternoon since it increases the room temperature. Also, whenever you cook, keep the windows of your kitchen open.

C. Strictly avoid drinking tea, coffee and alcohol.

D. As far as possible, avoid using heat-emitting bulbs and halogens.

Ref.: ‘Taiyari me hi samazdari : Aapada se bachane ke saral upay’

E. Avoid too much exercise, too much work and fasting frequently. Also, avoid going out in the sun and do not starve and remain dehydrated for long.

Protect from heatwave

F. Avoid consuming food items that are stale, spicy, salty, sour, dry or fried. Also, avoid pickles, amchur (Dry mango powder). These items stimulate bile production in our bodies.

G. Do not consume a cold drink, ice cream and canned fruit juice. These items cause indigestion and give rise to digestion problems. Excessive consumption of these items may cause blood contamination, and this may ultimately lead to skin diseases.

H. Do not consume curds during summer; you can prepare buttermilk and add sugar and cumin seeds.

I. If going out in the sun is necessary, drink some water before stepping out. To protect yourself from the harmful sun rays, wear a hat and sunglasses. Avoid plastic footwear.

J. Avoid masturbating. If you can’t avoid it, at least reduce the frequency to once in 2 weeks.

K. Do not stay awake late at night and do not stay in bed after sunrise.

– Vaidya Meghraj Paradkar, Sanatan Ashram, Ramnathi, Goa. (8.4.2014)


7. Measures to protect your cattle from heatwaves

A. Keep the cattle tied in the shade (of a tree or a cowshed). Make sure they have plenty of clean water to drink.

B. It is advisable not to use them for work from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; also, do not let them lose to graze.

C. If there is a cowshed or any designated area for them to rest, make sure the shade always remains cool. For this, you can place green grass or use coconut leaves as a thatch. Sprinkle water on the shade since this helps keep it cooler.

D. If possible, install a fan or place an air-cooler in the cowshed.

E. If the surrounding heat increases significantly, directly sprinkle water on the cattle.

Ref.: ‘Taiyari me hi samazdari : Aapada se bachane ke saral upay’
(For more, visit : www.sanatan.org/en/natural-disasters-and-survival-guide)

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