Heatwave Hazards In Nigeria: Impact On Health And Strategies For Adaptation

As a country with tropical climate Nigeria experiences intense heat throughout the year, especially in the northern regions. While warmth is often associated with good vibes and happy feels, excessive heat poses significant health risks, especially in a country where infrastructure and resources for mitigating its effects are limited. Understanding the implications of heat on health is crucial for implementing measures to protect vulnerable populations.

Vulnerable Populations: Certain groups are more susceptible to the adverse effects of heat. These groups including children, the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, are at heightened risk. Children, for instance, have less efficient thermoregulatory systems and may struggle to dissipate heat effectively, while older adults often have underlying health issues that make them more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.
Furthermore, socio-economic factors exacerbate the impacts of heat on health. In urban areas, where infrastructure like air conditioning may be lacking or inaccessible to low-income communities, individuals face greater challenges in coping with extreme temperatures. Additionally, outdoor workers, such as agricultural laborers and construction workers, endure prolonged exposure to the sun, increasing their susceptibility to heat-related illnesses.

HEALTH RISKS

The soaring temperatures in Nigeria can lead to various health challenges, ranging from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions.

Heatstroke: A severe form of heat illness characterized by a body temperature of 40°C (104°F) or higher, confusion, rapid pulse, and potentially unconsciousness. Heatstroke can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Heat Exhaustion: This occurs when the body becomes dehydrated and unable to cool itself sufficiently, leading to symptoms such as heavy sweating, weakness, nausea, and dizziness.

Dehydration: One of the most common consequences of excessive exposure to heat is dehydration. Prolonged periods of sweating without sufficient intake of fluids can lead to electrolyte imbalances. Symptoms include thirst, dry mouth, dark urine, fatigue, and dizziness.

Heat Cramps: Painful muscle spasms that occur due to electrolyte imbalances and dehydration, often experienced in the legs, arms, or abdomen.

Respiratory Problems: High temperatures can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), leading to breathing difficulties.

Cardiovascular Issues: Heat can strain the heart and exacerbate cardiovascular conditions, increasing the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.

Heat Rash (Miliaria): Heat rash, also known as prickly heat or miliaria, occurs when sweat ducts become blocked, leading to the development of red, itchy bumps on the skin. In Nigeria’s hot and humid climate, heat rash is a common occurrence, especially in areas where sweating is prevalent, such as the neck, underarms, and groin.

Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis): Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by dry, itchy, and inflamed patches of skin. The hot and humid climate in Nigeria can worsen eczema symptoms, leading to increased itchiness, redness, and discomfort. Heat can also exacerbate sweating, which further irritates sensitive skin and increases the risk of flare-ups.

Pruritus (Itchy Skin): Excessive heat and humidity can exacerbate pruritus, or itchy skin, in individuals with sensitive skin or underlying skin conditions. Heat-induced sweating can irritate the skin and trigger itching, leading to discomfort and distress.

TREATMENT AND MANAGEMENT OPTIONS

Use of Sunscreen: This offers protective properties against harmful UV radiation and is essential for shielding the skin from sunburn and reducing the risk of heat related conditions like heat rash and sunburn.

Moisturization: Using emollients and moisturizers rich in humectants can help restore the skin’s barrier function, hydrate the skin and alleviate itching associated with heat-induced dryness. Moisturizers containing ingredients like ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid are particularly effective in restoring skin barrier function and alleviate symptoms.

Oral Antihistamines: These help reduce itching and provide relief from heat-induced skin issues. Non-sedating antihistamines are preferred, especially during the daytime, to minimize drowsiness.

Maintaining Electrolytes Balance: Replenishing electrolytes lost through sweating is vital for maintaining hydration and preventing heat-related illnesses. Consuming effervescent electrolytes supplement, Oral rehydration solutions and electrolyte-rich fruits such as bananas, oranges and watermelon can help restore electrolyte balance and support overall well-being during periods of extreme heat.

Use of Topical Creams: For individuals experiencing skin irritations and rashes triggered by the heat, topical creams containing soothing ingredients like aloe vera or hydrocortisone can provide relief and promote healing. Topical corticosteroids are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation and relieve itching. These medications help control symptoms and promote skin healing. Treatments containing calamine or colloidal oatmeal can help soothe itching and inflammation associated with heat rash, providing symptomatic relief.

Moreover, treatment options for heat-related conditions such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke may involve intravenous fluid administration, antipyretic medications, and supportive care to manage symptoms and prevent complications. By incorporating these preventive measures and treatment options, individuals can better protect their skin health and overall well-being in the face of rising temperatures.
Preventive measures also include avoiding activities that may worsen sweating and friction on the skin, such as strenuous exercise, staying informed about weather forecasts and heat advisories; avoiding prolonged exposure to extreme heat, especially during peak hours. Wearing loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabrics such as cotton allows air circulation and helps prevent sweat from becoming trapped against the skin, reducing the risk of heat rash. Maintaining good hygiene and keeping the skin dry can help prevent heat rash by reducing sweat accumulation and minimizing the risk of sweat duct blockage. Taking cool baths or showers can help soothe itchy skin and provide temporary relief from heat-related discomfort. Adding colloidal oatmeal or baking soda to the bathwater can further alleviate itching and inflammation.

SUMMARY
Nigeria faces excessive heat periodically that poses significant health risks, especially for vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Socio-economic factors exacerbate these risks, particularly in urban areas with limited access to infrastructure like air conditioning. Health risks from heat include heatstroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration, heat cramps, respiratory and cardiovascular issues, heat rash, eczema, and pruritus. Strategies for adaptation include sunscreen use, moisturization, oral antihistamines, maintaining electrolyte balance, using topical creams, and avoiding activities that worsen sweating and friction on the skin. Staying informed about weather forecasts, wearing breathable clothing, practicing good hygiene, and taking cool baths or showers are also recommended.

REFERENCES
Lagos State Government. (2018). Heatwave: Lagos Govt advises residents on safety tips. Retrieved from https://www.lagosstatenews.com/heatwave-lagos-govt-advises-residents-on-safety-tips/
Federal Ministry of Health Nigeria. (2017). Guidelines for Preparedness and Response to Heatwaves in Nigeria. Retrieved from https://www.health.gov.ng/doc/Guidelines%20for%20Preparedness%20and%20Response%20to%20Heatwaves%20in%20Nigeria%20Final%20Draft%20%20%20%20.pdf
United Nations Development Programme. (2019). Climate Change and Health Risks in Nigeria. Retrieved from https://www.ng.undp.org/content/nigeria/en/home/library/climate_change/climate-change-and-health-risks-in-nigeria.htmlInternational
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2019). Heatwaves: What you need to know. Retrieved from https://www.ifrc.org/en/news-and-media/news-stories/health/heatwaves-what-you-need-to-know/
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2016). Heat Stress. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/default.html
Okafor, C. (2020). Heat Stress and Coping Mechanisms among Urban and Rural Dwellers in Lagos State, Nigeria. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(18), 6614.
World Health Organization. (2018). Heat and Health. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health.

Miss Egede Gabriella.

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