Heat injuries are increasingly rife in Singapore due to its hot and humid climate, and in severe cases, heatstroke can occur, which can cause multiple organ failure and even death.
Heatstroke usually occurs when a person’s body is unable to regulate its internal temperature, and people become vulnerable with prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in hot environments, according to NUS Medicine alumnus Dr Roger Tian, who is also a senior consultant sports physician at Changi General Hospital.
Apart from heatstroke, a variety of other heat-related injuries can occur, such as heat cramps, which are acute, painful and involuntary muscle contractions that occur due to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, and heat exhaustion, a more severe form of heat injury characterised by fatigue from heat stress. Heat exhaustion may also cause symptoms such as profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting and headaches. However, in the case of heatstroke, the person might feel dry instead and hot, as the body’s sweating mechanism no longer works when the body temperature rises above 40 degrees Celsius.
Children, people who are obese or on certain medications, and people who are not acclimatised to hot climates such as foreign workers from colder countries are at particular risk of heat injuries and should take extra precautions.
For heat injuries, prevention is better than cure, and preventive measures include being properly hydrated, wearing properly ventilated clothing and abstaining from exercise when unwell.
In face of a heatstroke victim, the priority is to lower the person’s body temperature by moving the victim to a cool and shaded environment and calling for help immediately. Clothing can also be removed, and pour water on or wrap a wet towel around the victim. If conscious, the person can be given fluids.