Doctors in the United Arab Emirates are warning that heat-related ailments such as heat stroke are on the rise across the country, as temperatures hit 50°C for the first time this year.
Temperatures reached 50.1°C in Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra district around 2.30 p.m. on Saturday, according to the National Centre of Meteorology, and reached the same level again on Sunday.
The rising mercury has led to doctors warning residents to take care in the harsh summer weather and to take precautions to protect themselves against the heat.
Dr Alpa Prashant Meshram, general practitioner and head of the department of general medicine at Medeor Hospital, Abu Dhabi, told Al Arabiya English that doctors in the UAE are seeing a rise in patients suffering from heat-related symptoms.
“The number of heat-related medical cases has been increasing recently,” he said, noting this is a trend being seen year-on-year across the country.
However, the doctor also notes that the severity of heat-related illnesses has also increased.
“In the past few years, we have seen a shift in the types of heat-related medical cases that we are seeing,” he said. “In the past, most heat-related cases were mild, such as heat cramps or heat exhaustion.”
“However, in recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of more serious cases, such as heat stroke. This is likely because people are spending more time outdoors in the heat.”
The doctor said there are certain age groups and demographics that are more susceptible to heat-related health issues. These include young children and the elderly – groups who are more likely to experience heat-related illnesses because they have a harder time regulating their body temperature.
People with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are also at higher risk, the doctor warned, as are people who work or exercise outdoors as they are more likely to be exposed to high temperatures and humidity, which can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.
To stay protected from heat-related illnesses, especially during the hottest months of the year, residents must stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, said the doctor.
“Drink even if you don’t feel thirsty,” he advised. “You must avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day.”
“If you must be active, do so in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing to help your body stay cool.”
“Take breaks in a cool place if you start to feel hot, dizzy, or nauseous. Apply sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and if you experience any of the symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Dr Baiju Faizal, a consultant in internal medicine at Lifecare Hospital in Musaffah, also told Al Arabiya English that he is seeing a spike in the number of heat-related illnesses – especially among outdoor workers.
This is despite the UAE introducing a mandatory midday break for workers from July 15 to September 15. The policy bans people from carrying out work outside between 12.30 pm and 3 pm.
“We are seeing a considerable rise in such cases, particularly among individuals engaged in outdoor activities like construction,” said Dr Faizal. Many of these patients presenting with heat-related illnesses are middle-aged individuals who work outside, said the doctor.
However, Dr Faizal said he believes the UAE’s midday rule has seen fewer outdoor workers – such as those who work on construction sites – seek emergency medical attention for heat-related illnesses in recent years.
“This may be attributed to increased awareness and improved safety measures implemented by various companies. Previously, we used to have a significant number of cases, sometimes exceeding 10-20 cases (a day). However, this trend has now decreased.”
“The implementation of mandatory rest periods during peak hours for outdoor workers has played a crucial role.”
“Moreover, there is greater awareness among workers regarding preventive measures for heat-related illnesses. Companies are organizing awareness camps that provide workers with proper guidance on prevention and early symptom recognition.
Aside from outdoor workers, Dr Faizal sees patients who are unaware of the potential consequences of excessive heat exposure on the human body.
“Our body possesses a natural cooling mechanism, primarily through sweating,” he said. ‘However, if this threshold is surpassed, it can lead to disruptions in body metabolism and cellular function.”
“Consequently, various organs in the body can be affected, starting with the muscles, followed by potential impacts on the kidneys and heart. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can even result in multi-organ dysfunction syndrome, particularly in severe cases of heatstroke. Furthermore, the brain can be adversely affected, potentially leading to loss of consciousness.”
There are different types of heat-related illnesses, with heatstroke being the most critical, said the doctor.
“In these instances, the patient’s ability to sweat may be compromised, as their sweating response may already be exhausted. The individual’s body temperature can rise significantly, reaching 41-42 degrees Celsius, which is exceptionally high and often accompanied by signs of multi-organ dysfunction.”
Heat exhaustion, on the other hand, is a less severe condition where patients typically experience profuse sweating along with severe muscle cramps or milder forms of muscle cramping, as well as skin issues.
It is crucial to be aware of and recognize the early symptoms of heat-related illnesses, said Dr Faizal.
“If someone experiences severe headaches, vomiting, blurred vision, profuse sweating, or is drinking excessive amounts of water, it may indicate impaired heat regulation,” he said. “In such cases, it is important to take immediate action. First, move the person to a cooler area as quickly as possible. Next, sprinkle cold water on them to help lower their body temperature.”
“Offer them cool water to drink, but avoid giving water if the person is unconscious, as it may enter their lungs. Instead, focus on moving them to a cooler area and immediately call for an ambulance to ensure they receive proper medical attention.”
The doctor said people need to make “summer modifications” to their day-to-day habits.
“If you work outdoors, it is vital to have appropriate work-rest cycles. Schedule regular breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas to allow your body to cool down.”
“If you are transitioning from a cold climate to a hot one, provide yourself with ample time to adapt to the new conditions. Allow your body to gradually adjust to the heat.”
“Opt for loose-fitting, lightweight, and breathable clothes whenever possible. This allows for better air circulation and helps your body regulate its temperature more effectively.”
“Remember, prevention is key when it comes to heat-related illnesses. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, preferably water, and limit strenuous activities during the hottest parts of the day. Also, include more fruits and vegetables in your diet. Avoid tea, coffee, and alcohol.”
UAE doctor Sarla Kumari, Diabetologist at the Canadian Specialist Hospital, said with temperatures surpassing 50°C residents in the UAE need to be careful to stay safe.
“Those people who are having outdoor jobs like sales and manual jobs construction workers are more prone to health-related issues and even young children and old age people with chronic medical problems are easily prone to heat-related health issues,” she said. “What see in hospital…people come with weakness, tiredness, headaches, no energy and muscle cramps.”
“Those who are even more dehydrated can present with nausea, palpitations, and flushed skin. We advise people to stay indoors during peak hours of the day, keep well hydrated, and wear light cotton clothing and a hat with sunglasses.”
Intense heat waves are being reported across many parts of the globe.
Italy issued hot weather red alerts for 16 cities on Sunday, with meteorologists warning that temperatures will hit record highs across southern Europe in the coming days.
Spain, Italy and Greece have been experiencing scorching temperatures for several days already, damaging agriculture and leaving tourists scurrying for shade.
Dr Deep Bhattacharya, General Physician at Dubai’s Canadian Specialist Hospital, says, as global temperatures continue to rise, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is experiencing an increase in heat-related health issues. “This phenomenon is not unique to the UAE; it is a global concern,” he said. “While everyone is susceptible to heat-related health issues, certain age groups and demographics are more vulnerable. The UAE’s high temperatures, coupled with the effects of climate change, increase everyone’s risk of heat-related health issues.”
Similarly, Dr Azeem Abdul Salam Mohamad, a specialist in internal medicine at Bareen International Hospital – MBZ City, said he has also recently noticed an increasing rise in the number of patients presenting with potentially life-threatening heat exposure-related symptoms
“Heat-related illnesses had been on the rise for several years because of global warming and are expected to rise further in the coming years,” he said. “The MENA region is more vulnerable to negative effects of climate change.”
“The most frequently encountered heat-related health concerns which we usually manage in our hospital are dehydration, sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat cramps. When the body gets exposed to extreme outside temperature, people can go into heatstroke, which is a severe condition that can be life-threatening.”
“It is very important to educate the public about the symptoms associated with extreme heat exposure. They are tiredness, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, dark-colored urine etc.”