With the temperatures remaining in the 90s and heat indices making it feel even hotter outside, we are all feeling the effects. Too much heat is not safe for anyone, but it’s even riskier if you are older or have health problems. If you do feel like you are getting overheated, it’s important to get relief from the heat quickly. If not, you might begin to feel confused or faint. Even worse, your heart could become stressed and even stop beating.
The following are heat related illnesses that are related to hyperthermia:
Heat syncope is a sudden dizziness that can happen when you are active in hot weather. If you take a heart medication called a beta blocker or are not used to hot weather, you are even more likely to feel faint. Rest in a cool place, put your legs up, and drink water to make the dizzy feeling go away.
Heat cramps are the painful tightening of muscles in your stomach, arms, or legs. Cramps can result from hard work or exercise. Though your body temperature and pulse usually stay normal during heat cramps, your skin may feel moist and cool. Find a way to cool your body down. Rest in the shade or in a cool building and drink plenty of fluids, but not those with alcohol or caffeine.
Heat edema is a swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot. Put your legs up to help reduce swelling. If that doesn’t work fairly quickly, check with your doctor.
Heat exhaustion is a warning that your body can no longer keep itself cool. You might feel thirsty, dizzy, weak, uncoordinated, and nauseated. You may sweat a lot. Your body temperature may stay normal, but your skin may feel cold and clammy. Some people with heat exhaustion have a rapid pulse. Get relief by resting in a cool place and get plenty of fluids. If you don’t feel better soon, get medical care. Be careful—heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.
If you have heat stroke, you need to get medical help right away. Older people living in homes or apartments without air conditioning or fans are at most risk. People who become dehydrated or those with chronic diseases or alcoholism are also at most risk. Signs of heat stroke are:
- Fainting (possibly the first sign) or becoming unconscious
- A change in behavior—confusion, agitation, staggering, being grouchy, or acting strangely
- Body temperature over 104°F
- Dry, flushed skin and a strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse
- Not sweating even if it is hot
Each year, most people who die from hyperthermia are over 50 years old. Health problems that put you at greater risk include:
- Heart or blood vessel problems
- Poorly working sweat glands or changes in your skin caused by normal aging
- Heart, lung, or kidney disease, as well as any illness that makes you feel weak all over or results in a fever
- Conditions treated by drugs, such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and some heart and high blood pressure medicines; they may make it harder for your body to cool itself
- Taking several prescription drugs; ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of your medications make you more likely to become overheated.
- Being very overweight or underweight
- Drinking alcoholic beverages
Try these tips to lower your risk of heat-related illness:
- Drink plenty of liquids, such as water or fruit or vegetable juices, and stay away from drinks containing alcohol or caffeine. If your doctor has told you to limit your liquids, ask what you should do when it is very hot.
- If you live in a home or apartment without fans or air conditioning, try to keep your house as cool as possible. Limit your use of the oven. Keep your shades, blinds, or curtains closed during the hottest part of the day, and open your windows at night.
- If your house is hot, spend time at the shopping mall, movie theater, library, senior center, day shelter, or a friend’s house that has air conditioning.
- If you need help getting to a cool place, ask a friend or relative. Some religious groups, senior centers, and Area Agencies on Aging provide this service and some will provide free fans to those who cannot afford to buy one on their own.
- Wear lightweight material clothing. Natural fabrics, such as cotton, can be cooler than synthetic fibers such as polyester. However, some clothing is designed to wick away moisture to keep you cool.
- Put a cold, wet towel around your neck to bring down your body temperature.
- Don’t try to exercise or do a lot of activities outdoors when it’s hot.
- Avoid crowded places when it’s hot outside. Plan trips during non-rush-hour times.
During these hot days of summer, please keep an eye of your older loved ones and neighbors. Remind them to drink plenty of water or juice (as long as it’s in accordance with their doctor’s recommendation due to certain medications or conditions). If there is a heat wave, offer to help them get to somewhere cool, or spend the afternoon in your home if you have air conditioning.