Preventative measures to treat heat-related ailments

Health issues related to heat, dehydration and the sun can be prevented or alleviated. Picture: Pexels.

Health issues related to heat, dehydration and the sun can be prevented or alleviated. Picture: Pexels.

Published Dec 1, 2023


As the summer heat intensifies, it's important to be aware of common ailments that can affect our well-being.

These include health issues such as heatstroke, dehydration, exhaustion and sunburn.

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has predicted hotter-than-usual temperatures for South Africa this summer.

SAWS lead scientist for long range prediction Dr Christien Engelbrecht, also warned that the inland regions are most likely to experience above-normal temperatures. This raises concerns about the possibility of heatwaves in these areas.

One of the most important things to do during hot weather, is to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), staying well-hydrated helps the body regulate its temperature and prevents dehydration.

And while heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, each year an average of about 658 people succumb to health conditions arising from extreme heat.

The CDC added that it is challenging to estimate the effects of high heat on public health as heat-related conditions, like heat exhaustion and heatstroke, are not required to be reported to public health agencies.

Meanwhile, those who are at a higher risk of developing heat-related illnesses are the elderly, young children, people living with chronic illnesses and those engaging in strenuous outdoor activities.

Additionally, people living in urban areas with limited access to cooling systems, and those without adequate hydration and shelter, are also more susceptible.

To beat the heat and to avoid these heat related challenges, we have compiled some practical tips.


As previously noted, one of the most prevalent issues during summer is dehydration.

The body loses more fluids through sweating, leading to an imbalance in electrolytes.

According to a study published in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition”, even mild dehydration can impair cognitive function and physical performance.

Tips on how to avoid dehydration:

– Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don't feel thirsty.

– Include hydrating foods in your diet, such as watermelon, cucumber and citrus fruits.

– Avoid excessive drinking, be it caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, as they can contribute to dehydration.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body overheats due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures.

Symptoms may include dizziness, fatigue, nausea and heavy sweating.

According to the CDC, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke, if not addressed promptly.

Tips on how to avoid heat exhaustion

– Seek shade or air-conditioned environments during the hottest parts of the day.

– Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing and use sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

– Take frequent breaks and stay well-hydrated.


Prolonged sun exposure without proper protection can lead to painful sunburn.

This condition damages the skin and increases the risk of skin cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that UV radiation from the sun is the primary cause of skin cancer.

Meanwhile, the National Cancer Registry has reported that 22 712 South Africans were diagnosed with the most common skin cancers in 2019. This included basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Tips on how to avoid sunburn:

– Apply sunscreen with a high SPF (at least 30) and reapply every two hours.

– Wear protective clothing such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.

– Seek shade or use umbrellas when spending time outdoors.

Heat rash

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, occurs when sweat ducts become clogged, leading to red, itchy bumps on the skin.

According to a study published in the “Indian Journal of Dermatology”, prolonged exposure to heat and humidity increases the risk of heat rash.

Tips on how to avoid heat rash

– Keep the affected area cool and dry.

– Wear lightweight, breathable clothing.

– Avoid using heavy creams or lotions that may further clog the sweat ducts.

Food-borne illnesses

Warmer temperatures can promote the growth of bacteria in food.

The CDC reported that food-borne diseases increase during the summer months.

And considering that South Africa is grappling with load shedding, the persistent power outages have disrupted every facet of life, including food safety, especially if the fridge is regularly opened during this period.

Tips on how to avoid food-borne illnesses:

– Practise proper food handling and storage techniques. For instance, raw meat can be placed on the bottom shelf.

– Keep perishable foods refrigerated and avoid leaving them out in the heat for extended periods.

– Wash hands thoroughly before handling food.