Medicine Cabinet


The heat is still on as the Philippines rides through the summer months. Over the years, peak summer temperatures in the country have ranged between 36°C and 42°C. This year, with the ongoing El Niño, the national weather service, PAGASA, forecasts maximum temperatures to breach the 40°C mark.

Recently, the El Niño Task Force urged local governments and school heads to consider suspending classes in cases of extreme heat for the health and physical wellbeing of students.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is most likely to affect the elderly, people with high blood pressure, and those working in a hot environment such as traffic enforcers and street sweepers. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, elevated body temperature, and decreased urine output.

Heat cramps usually affect workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. Excessive sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. Symptoms include muscle cramps, pain, or spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs, the CDC explains.

Prolonged exposure to extreme summer temperatures can result in heat stroke, the most severe type of heat-related illness. Heat stroke is a medical condition in which the body temperature rises quickly to 40°C or higher, and the sweating mechanism designed to cool down the body fails. It is considered a medical emergency and, if left untreated, can damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing the risk of serious complications or death, warns the Department of Health (DoH).

Vigorous exercise in hot and humid weather, dehydration, and excessive exposure to the sun can increase a person’s risk of heat stroke. Infants and children up to age four and adults over age 65 who adjust to heat more slowly, as well as individuals with co-morbidities such as fever, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, mental illness, and alcoholism are at higher risk of heat stroke.

Common signs and symptoms of heat stroke include dizziness; vomiting; headache; warm, flushed skin; confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech; very high body temperature of 40°C or more; rapid heartbeat and breathing; convulsions; and loss of consciousness (coma).

Taking quick action to cool down people affected by heat-related illnesses is absolutely vital. Move the person to a shaded, cool area. Lay the person down with their feet elevated. Cool the person quickly by removing their outer clothing, giving them a sip of cold water (if they are able), applying cool water to the skin, and fanning them. If possible, place cold wet pieces of cloth or icepacks on the person’s head, neck, armpits, and groin; or soak the person’s clothing with cool water. After performing first aid, bring the person to the nearest hospital immediately.

A DoH website offers the following tips to help prevent heat stroke. Limit the amount of time spent outdoors. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothes. Avoid drinks with caffeine (e.g., coffee and tea) and alcoholic beverages; these are diuretics that may lead to excess fluid loss through urination and sweating.

Schedule outdoor activities during cooler times of the day, if possible, such as early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Mist yourself with a spray bottle filled with cool water when you feel overheated. Take frequent breaks from the heat when outdoors. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Avoid staying inside a vehicle when it is hot outside.

The Mayo Clinic gives the following tips for optimum hydration, which is particularly important during summer. Throughout the day, drink water to maintain a healthy balance; don’t wait until you are thirsty. Infuse water with slices of fruit, vegetables, or herbs for a refreshing and tasty boost.

For quick hydration, especially if you feel dehydrated after strenuous physical activity or a vigorous workout, the Mayo Clinic recommends electrolyte-infused water. Other delicious as well as hydrating fruits and vegetables are cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, strawberries, grapefruit, peppers, cauliflower, spinach, radishes, and broccoli.


Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). PHAP represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are in the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.