How to Stay Healthy in the Heat

Heat-related health issues come with rising temperatures

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As the temperature rises, so does the risk for heat-related health issues.

And this risk is particularly high for the elderly and those with multiple medical issues. 

The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, weighed in on some facts and recommendations to keep in mind this summer. Here's what you need to know to stay safe in hot weather. 

What Is Hyperthermia and Heat Stroke?

Hyperthermia is caused by the body's inability to regulate itself in hot environments. 

Forms of hyperthermia include heat fatigue, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, sudden dizziness after being in the heat for a long period of time and heat stroke

Heat stroke is considered a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. During a heat stroke, your body is unable to control its temperature.

Signs of a heat stroke may include an increase in temperature (typically above 104 degrees Fahrenheit), fast pulse, change in mental status, dry and flushed skin, inability to sweat and feeling faint. Heat stroke can even lead to a coma.

Anyone experiencing a possible heat stroke should get immediate emergency medical attention. This is especially true for the elderly. 

What Increases My Risk?

Your risk for heat-related problems is increased by high temperatures and the combination of certain lifestyle factors, as well as your individual health status. 

Lifestyle factors may include living in conditions in which there is no air conditioning, not drinking plenty of fluids and a lack of understanding of how to respond to hot weather conditions.

In terms of health status, the following may increase your risk for hyperthermia:

  • Dehydration
  • Reduced sweating caused by certain medications, or if you have inefficient sweat production
  • Drinking alcohol 
  • Being very underweight or overweight
  • Heart, lung or kidney diseases
  • High blood pressure
  • Taking several medications
  • Changes to the skin (related to age), such as poor blood circulation 

What Can I Do to Stay Safe?

When it is hot and humid outdoors, try to stay indoors in cooler spaces. This is especially important for older people and those who have multiple chronic medical conditions.

Experts also recommend staying indoors during an air pollution alert.

If you do not have air conditioning, senior centers, movie theaters, libraries and shopping malls are great places to spend the day in cooler air. Another great option is looking for cooling centers that are set up by local health agencies. 

What if I See Someone with a Heat-Related Illness?

  • Call 911.
  • Remove the person from the heat.
  • Move the person into a shady, air-conditioned location or another cool place.
  • Have the person lie down.
  • Apply a cold, wet cloth to the armpits, neck, wrists and groin. Applying cold cloths at these particular areas can help cool the blood. This is because the blood passes close to the surface of the skin at these locations. 
  • Offer the person fluids (ONLY if the person can swallow safely). Liquids may include water and vegetable and fruit juices. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Encourage the person to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water (if you feel it is safe to do so).