The risks of suffering heat-related health problems can increase with fasting in summer due to a drop in body fluids and salt levels, according to Dr. Muayad Kasim Khalid, Senior Consultant and Head of Adult Emergency Department at Al Wakra Hospital (AWH).
Although recently there has been no increase in the total number of patients who have been treated for heat-related illnesses at the Adult Emergency Department in AWH, people are advised not to work in direct sunlight. Individuals that are most affected are usually outdoor workers, including those fasting.
“Normally during summer, we see an increase in the number of people suffering from heat illnesses such as sun stroke and heat exhaustion. The majority of the cases occur amongst those who work outdoors due to the nature of their job,” said Dr. Khalid. He added that due to stricter rules in place to prevent outdoor workers from working under the sun in peak hours, there has been no significant increase in the number of people suffering from heat-related illnesses. “Usually, we receive up to 600 various cases of emergencies daily at AWH’s Emergency Department but since Ramadan started, we have actually seen a decline in the number of cases.
This is an indication that the laws and public awareness campaigns about safeguarding one’s health are paying off,” Dr. Khalid added.
He did however note that when Ramadan falls within one of the hottest months of the year like June, prolonged exposure to sunlight and high temperature during the daytime may cause sunstroke as a result of a failure in the body's cooling system. “In a few cases, this over exposure may cause organ dysfunction or other adverse effects, such as severe headaches accompanied by dehydration.”
Other symptoms can include muscle pain, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, skin redness, rapid breathing, a high heart rate, and difficulties in speech and understanding.
Dr. Khalid advised those that are fasting to drink sufficient amount of fluids in the evenings to enable the body to adapt to fluctuating temperatures.
“During fasting hours, your body lacks the water supply that keeps it hydrated so it is very important to drink plenty of fluids during night time,” he stressed. “The body’s ability to deal with excessive heat depends on the power of the central nervous system. This is lower in children and elderly people so it is important to ensure they maintain healthy hydration levels,” Dr. Khalid said.
Treatment for sunstroke includes cooling down the affected person by lowering their body temperature to the normal level. “If the affected person is conscious, they should be made to drink fluids, such as water or any cold drink. Hot drinks and caffeine should be avoided because they will increase dehydration levels. If the person is unconscious, use cool water (not cold) by applying a wet flannel or face-cloth to the skin. The affected person should be exposed to a fan or an air stream to dry out their body and maintain the health of the brain and body organ function.”
Dr. Khalid mentioned that some people may suffer a headache or pain within the first days of fasting during Ramadan.
“Headaches happen as a result of a sudden change in nutritional habits and a reduced supply of fluids in the body, as well as changes to sleep patterns, which may cause muscle pain and fatigue. Skipping a morning cup of tea, coffee or breakfast can also cause headaches,” he said.
Dr. Khalid suggested drinking sufficient amount of fluids during both Iftar and Suhour, eating moderate meals, and getting enough sleep to avoid headaches and other side effects.