The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that approximately 400 people die each year from excessive natural heat, and that these deaths are preventable. While seniors are more likely to be affected by high temperatures and heat-related problems than younger people, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can affect anyone if the conditions are right. This includes animals. Please provide shade and plenty of cool, fresh drinking water for your pets, and never leave a pet, child or elderly person in a locked car on hot days.
What is Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures, along with dehydration caused by inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.
What are the Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion?
People respond to heat exhaustion in different ways, but the CDC reports that common symptoms include:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin: may be cool and moist
- Pulse rate: fast and weak
- Breathing: fast and shallow
The CDC reports that heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness.
Heat stroke occurs when the body is exposed to an excessive amount of heat and becomes unable dissipate the heat through sweating. When heat stroke happens, the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat, and it is unable to cool down. Body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes, and at 106°F brain death begins. If emergency treatment is not provided, heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability in humans and animals.
What are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke?
The CDC advises that warning signs can vary among individuals, but common signs of heat stroke may include:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be avoided if you protect yourself from heat-related stress by follow these prevention tips from the CDC:
- Drink cool, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages.
- The CDC recommends that if your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or prescribes water pills for you, ask him or her how much you should drink when the weather is hot.
- It's best to avoid extremely cold liquids because they can cause stomach cramps.
- Drink water regularly throughout the day, even if you don't feel thirsty. Once you recognize the feeling of thirst, dehydration is already taking place.
- Be aware that some medications can make you more vulnerable to heat exhaustion. For example, painkillers can mask some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, and laxatives can increase the risk of dehydration. If you have any questions about prescription or over-the-counter medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Rest, often. If you need an excuse to be a couch potato, hot days are just the ticket.
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
Wear lightweight clothing.
If possible, remain indoors during the hottest parts of the day.
Do not engage in strenuous activities.
Why Are Seniors More Prone to Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke?
The CDC reports that seniors are more prone to heat stress than younger people because:
Seniors do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature.
Seniors are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that upsets normal body responses to heat.
Seniors are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body's ability to regulate its temperature, or that inhibit perspiration.
Helping Seniors Cope with Hot Weather
If you have elderly friends, relatives or neighbors, you can help them protect themselves from heat-related stress:
Visit older adults at risk at least twice a day and watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Make sure they are keeping themselves hydrated by drinking plenty of cool water.
Encourage them to avoid beverages with caffeine or alcohol. Alcohol, in particular, increases dehydration.
Take them to air-conditioned locations if they have transportation problems.
Make sure older adults have access to an electric fan whenever possible.
What to Do If You See Someone With Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke
Keep in mind that if you see any signs of severe heat stress, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency.
Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the affected person. The CDC recommends the following:
Get the person to a shady area.
Cool the person rapidly, using whatever methods you can, for example:
Immerse the person in a tub of cool water
Place the person in a cool shower
Spray the person with cool water from a garden hose
Sponge the person with cool water
If the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously
Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101°–102°F.
If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
Do not give the person alcohol to drink.
Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC). For more information see the CDC Web site