Summer heat in Hong Kong can be intense, it is noted that the death toll due to heat stroke has been rising in recent years. The Hong Kong Observatory also suggested that the above-normal temperature across August – October is likely to persist. In view of this Hong Kong government established guidance notes to advise employers to take consideration for outdoor employees to avoid tragedy.
“Heat stroke is a severe heat-related illness that occurs when the body's temperature regulation system fails. It can lead to serious health complications and even be fatal if left untreated.”
In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments of heat stroke and provide tips for avoiding heat stroke.
Who is at risk?Here are some groups of people who may be at higher risk of heat stroke:
- Older adults: As you age, your body becomes less efficient at regulating temperature, which can make you more susceptible to heat stroke. Older adults are also more likely to have underlying health conditions that can make them more vulnerable to the effects of heat
- Infants and young children: Young children have a higher surface area to body weight ratio, which means they can absorb more heat from their environment. They may also be less able to communicate when they're feeling hot or thirsty, which can increase their risk of heat stroke
- People with chronic health conditions: Certain chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, can make it harder for your body to regulate temperature, which can increase your risk of heat stroke
- People who work outdoors: If you work outdoors, especially in hot and humid conditions, you may be at higher risk of heat stroke. This is especially true if you're doing physical labour or wearing heavy protective clothing
- People taking certain medications: Certain medications, such as diuretics and antihistamines, can make you more susceptible to heat stroke
Heat stroke causesHeat stroke occurs when your body can no longer regulate its temperature. This can happen when you are exposed to high temperatures (>40.0 °C (104.0 °F)) for a prolonged period, or if you engage in strenuous exercise in hot weather. Factors that can increase the probability of having heat stroke include:
- Exposure to high temperatures: Spending time in hot and humid environments, especially without adequate hydration, can increase the risk of heat stroke.
- Exertion in hot weather: Engaging in physical activity, such as exercise or manual labour, in hot weather can cause the body to overheat and increase the risk of heat stroke.
- Certain medications: Certain medications, such as diuretics and antihistamines, can make the body more susceptible to heat stroke.
- Health conditions: Certain health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, can increase the risk of heat stroke.
- Age and gender: Older adults and women are more susceptible to heat stroke due to changes in their bodies' ability to regulate temperature.
- Cultural factors: Some cultural practices, such as wearing heavy clothing or head coverings, can increase the risk of heat stroke in certain populations.
Heat stroke symptomsThe symptoms of heat stroke can vary from person to person. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include:
- High body temperature (above 40°C (104.0 °F))
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Dizziness or confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weakness or fatigue
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Loss of consciousness
Treatments for heat strokeIf you suspect someone has heat stroke, it's essential to act fast. Here are some tips for heat stroke management:
- Moving to a cooler environment
- Removing excess clothing
- Drink cool water or other fluids to replenish lost fluids for rehydration
- Cooling the body by applying cold, wet towels or taking a cool bath to lower the body's temperature
- Fan the person or spray them with cool water
- Place ice packs or cool towels on the person's neck, armpits, and groin
- Call for emergency medical assistance immediately
Mild heat stroke symptoms can be treated by rehydration and rest in a cool, shaded place. However, severe cases of heat stroke require immediate medical attention (call 999) as they can lead to serious complications such as organ failure and brain damage.
How to recover from heat stroke?The recovery process for heat stroke can vary depending on the severity of the case4. Most people recover fully from heat stroke, but it's essential to take precautions to prevent it from happening again. Here are some recommendations for heat stroke recovery:
- Rest and allow your body to cool down
- Rehydrate with water or sports drinks
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Monitor your body temperature and symptoms
- Seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen or don't improve
With proper heat stroke recovery, you can return to your normal activities within a week or two.
Here are some additional tips to help avoid heat stroke:
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and sports drinks that contain electrolytes, to help replace the fluids lost through sweating.
- Dress appropriately: Wear lightweight, light-coloured, and loose-fitting clothing that allows air to circulate.
- Stay in a cool environment: Seek out air-conditioned spaces or use fans to keep cool. If you don't have access to air conditioning, take cool showers or baths, or use wet towels to cool down.
- Bring an umbrella: Always bring an umbrella with UV protection to shield and avoid direct exposure to the sunlight.
- Limit outdoor activities: Avoid spending too much time outside during the hottest part of the day, typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Take breaks: Take frequent breaks in a cool, shaded area if you must be outside for extended periods.
- Be mindful of medications: Certain medications, such as diuretics and antihistamines, can increase your risk of heat stroke. Consult with your doctor to see if any medications may affect your heat tolerance.
Heat stroke is a severe heat-related illness that can be prevented by staying hydrated, taking breaks in a cool, shaded place, and avoiding strenuous activities in hot weather. It's crucial to recognise the signs of heat stroke and seek immediate medical attention if needed.
References1. Woo, A. (2022, July 30). Hong Kong’s Fire Services Department reports rise in heatstroke cases as residents venture outside amid scorching temperatures. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/weather/hong-kong/article/3187095/hong-kongs-fire-services-department-reports-rise-heatstroke-cases
2. Hong Kong Observatory(HKO). (n.d.). Seasonal forecast. Retrieved from https://www.hko.gov.hk/en/wxinfo/season/season.htm
3. Occupational Safety and Health Branch Labour Department (2023). Guidance Notes on Prevention of Heat Stroke at Work. Retrieved from https://www.labour.gov.hk/common/public/oh/Heat_Stress_GN_en.pdf
4. Professional, C. C. M. (n.d.). Heatstroke. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21812-heatstroke
5. NHS (2022, August 12). Heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Nhs.uk. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heat-exhaustion-heatstroke/
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Heat-Related Illnesses. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/warning.html