When the weather warms up, it can be nice to get outside. However, extended exposure to extreme heat during the summer can be dangerous, especially for older adults. In fact, according to the CDC, more than 600 Americans die every summer from health complications associated with excessive heat/humidity. Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions are at an increased risk of developing a heat-related illness and should be mindful of hot weather safety.
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In this article, we’ll provide you with some information on heat-related illnesses, as well as give you some hot weather safety tips to help you avoid these illnesses.
When you’re too hot for too long, it can cause a variety of illnesses. These are all grouped under the name hyperthermia and include the following:
This heat-related illness is characterized by sudden dizziness and happens when you’re active in hot weather. If you’re not used to hot temps or you take a beta-blocker, you’re at an increased risk of experiencing heat syncope.
When you start to feel faint, find a cool place to rest, drink some water, and elevate your feet.
This heat-related illness is characterized by a painful tightening of the muscles in your arms, legs, or stomach. Heat cramps are typically the result of exercise or hard work. Your body temperature and pulse will likely remain normal- but your skin may feel moist and cool. Find somewhere to rest and cool down and make sure to drink plenty of fluids, avoiding caffeine or alcohol.
This heat-related illness is characterized by swelling in your feet and ankles as a result to prolonged exposure to extreme heat. If you experience heat edema, find somewhere to cool off and elevate your legs to reduce the swelling. If this doesn’t work, its advisable to consult with your medical provider.
This heat-related illness is characterized by feeling nauseated, weak, thirsty, dizzy, and uncoordinated. This is a warning that your body is unable to keep itself cool. Some people sweat a lot when they are experiencing heat exhaustion. Many times, your body temperature remains normal, but your skin is cold and clammy to the touch. You may have a rapid pulse. If you are experiencing the symptoms of heat exhaustion, it’s important that you find a cool place to rest. Also, make sure to get plenty of fluids and if you don’t feel better quickly, get medical treatment. If you are not careful, heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke.
Heatstroke is a serious medical emergency. If you are experiencing heatstroke, it’s critical that you seek medical treatment immediately. Older individuals who do not have air conditioning or fans are at an increased risk. Also, individuals with chronic medical conditions or alcoholism are also at an increased risk. Some common signs of heatstroke include:
- Fainting/becoming unconscious
- Changes in behavior (acting strangely, confusion, staggering, agitation, being grouchy)
- Body temperature over 104°F
- Strong, rapid pulse or slow, weak pulse
- Dry, flushed skin
- Not sweating, even when it’s hot
Who is at Risk for Heat-Related Illnesses?
According to the experts, every year most of the fatalities due to hyperthermia are over the age of 50. In addition, there are some health complications that can increase your risk of heat-related illnesses. These include:
- Heart/blood vessel problems
- Changes in skin due to aging
- Poorly working sweat glands
- Heart disease, kidney disease, conditions affecting the lungs, and any other illness that causes you to feel weak or causes a fever
- Medical conditions treated by medications, as these treatments may make it harder for your body to cool itself
- Being overweight/underweight
- Alcohol consumption
- Certain prescription medications increase risk of becoming overheated
Hot Weather Safety Tips
In order to avoid heat-related illnesses, older adults must take precautions when the temperatures are above 80°F. Below are a few hot weather safety tips to keep in mind when trying to stay cool.
- Avoid direct sun exposure when possible- try planning outdoor activities early in the morning or in the evening when the sun begins to set.
- Stay indoors, in the air conditioning, when possible. If you don’t have an AC, go somewhere that does, such as the library, movie theater, indoor mall, or your local senior center.
- Make sure that you’re drinking plenty of fluids such as water and clear juices. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they can cause you to become dehydrated because they make you urinate more.
- When possible, wear loose, lightly colored clothing. Dark-colored clothing will absorb heat. Also, wear a lightweight, wide-brimmed hat.
- Apply sunscreen to exposed skin and use bug spray when going outdoors. Make sure the sunscreen is broad-spectrum with an SPF of 15 or higher.
- When feeling warm, take a tepid shower or bath. If you don’t have time, wet some washcloths or towels with cool water and place them on your ankles, neck, armpits, and wrists.
Older adults are at an increased risk of developing heat-related illnesses. If you experience any of these heat-related illnesses and they don’t clear up once you’ve cooled off, seek medical attention immediately.
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