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While South Africa experiences the worst water shortage since 1992, the country is also in the grip of a scorching heatwave with no relief in sight. Every day sees the mercury soaring over the 40 degree mark, prompting the South African Weather Service to warn people to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activities.

Emergency services have had to treat several people suffering from heat stroke over the past few weeks and a woman even had to be airlifted off Table Mountain on New Year’s Eve after she collapsed from the heat.

Studies say that the very young and the elderly are most at risk during extended periods of extreme heat, specifically to breathing difficulties and heart problems. However, anybody can be affected by dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke if not careful. Make sure you are aware of the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and that you can recognise them before they become critical. According to the Mayo Clinic, typical symptoms include the following:

  • A higher than normal body temperature. Anything above 40 C is considered abnormal
  • Headache
  • Strange behaviour such as confusion, agitation or slurred speech
  • Absence of sweat – heatstroke brought on by hot weather will make your skin feel hot and dry to the touch
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Irregular breathing – your breathing becomes rapid and shallow
  • Increased pulse rate – the heat may cause your heart to race as it has to work harder to try and cool your body

If you suspect that you or somebody around you is experiencing heatstroke, seek immediate medical attention and call Maponya 911’s Emergency Hotline on 0861 960 960 right away. Then, while you are waiting, get the overheated person indoors, remove any excess clothing and cool the person down in any way that you can – with a cool bath or shower or by packing ice packs or wet towels around the person’s head, neck, armpits and groin.

However, the best way to survive a heatwave is to make sure that it never reaches this critical point; and by employing a few practical tips the worst effects are easily avoided:

  • Make sure you stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, between 11am and 3pm.
  • If possible, keep your curtains and blinds closed to try and keep rooms cool. Light-coloured curtains are also best as light colours reflect heat whereas darker colours absorb it.
  • If you don’t have access to air-conditioning, use fans to encourage circulation of air through your house. Start them up early in the day, before it gets hot.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of cold fluids such as water or fruit juice, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid tea, coffee or alcohol as these are diuretics which cause your body to release more water.
  • Wear loose, cool clothing and make sure you wear a hat if going outdoors.
  • At night, try to turn off as many lights as possible. Lightbulbs emit heat which will only aggravate the situation. If possible, replace existing bulbs with LED bulbs. Not only are LED bulbs more eco-friendly and cheaper to run, they also emit less heat than normal bulbs.
  • Try to avoid using heat producing appliances such as dishwashers, stoves and ovens. Rather eat cold meals such as salads which don’t require cooking and which will help to keep you cool.
  • Use a water-filled spray bottle. Fill a spray bottle with water and place it in the fridge or freezer until the water is ice cold. Then mist yourself with the cold water as needed.
  • Falling asleep when it’s really hot can also be a problem. Keep yourself cool by filling a sock with rice and placing it in the freezer for a few hours. The rice will retain the cold for long periods and can be placed next to you under the covers to help keep you cool.
  • Pets are also particularly vulnerable during a heatwave. Make sure that they have easy access to lots of fresh water and that they can go somewhere to get out of the heat, such as under a shady tree or indoors. Be especially careful not to leave them locked in your car for any length of time.
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