SPRINGFIELD – With hot weather and high humidity frequently in the forecast this summer, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D. reminds everyone about the importance of staying cool in order to avoid heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
“Hot weather can cause heat-related illness which ranges in severity from relatively mild heat cramps to life-threatening heat stroke. It’s important for people to recognize the signs of heat-related illness and take action to prevent becoming sick,” said Shah. “Normally, the body cools itself by sweating. However, if temperatures and humidity are extremely high, sweating is not effective in maintaining the body’s normal temperature. If the body does not cool properly or does not cool enough, a person may suffer a heat-related illness, which can become serious or even deadly.”
Symptoms of heat-related illnesses
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have listed the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion and what to do if these occur.
Heat Stroke - Look for high body temperature (103F or higher); hot, red, dry or damp skin; fast, strong pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; losing consciousness (passing out).
If this occurs, call 911 right away - heat stroke is a medical emergency. Move the person to a cooler place, help lower their temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath, but do not give them anything to drink.
Heat Exhaustion - Look for heavy sweating; cold, pale and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; muscle cramps; tiredness or weakness; dizziness; headache; fainting (passing out).
If this occurs, move the person to a cool place, loosen clothes, put cool, wet cloths on the body or take a cool bath and sip water. Get medical help right away if the person is throwing up, if the symptoms get worse or last longer than one hour, or if heat cramps occur.
Heat Cramps - Look for heavy sweating during intense exercise and muscle pain or spasms.
If this occurs, stop physical activity and move to a cool place, drink water or a sports drink and wait for cramps to go away before doing any more physical activity. Get medical help right away if cramps last longer than one hour, the person is on a low-sodium diet or has heart problems.
Heat-related death or illnesses are preventable if a few simple steps are followed.
Cooling stations and senior centers are also available in some areas for people of all ages.
Air conditioning is the strongest protective factor against heat-related illness. Exposure to air conditioning for even a few hours a day will reduce the risk for heat-related illness.
Never leave anyone, including pets, alone in a closed, parked vehicle. The air temperature inside a car rises rapidly during hot weather and can lead to brain damage or death.
Seniors at extra risk from heat
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says seniors are more prone to heat stroke and heat-related stress because their bodies cannot adjust to sudden changes in temperature. Additionally, seniors who take certain prescription medications are more susceptible to heat-related injuries and illnesses.
Families should pay special attention to seniors who are taking any medications this summer. It is also important for families to consult their doctor or pharmacist regarding the potential impact of heat on any medications.
Some of the effects heat and medications can have on seniors are listed below.
* Antidepressants and antihistamines act on an area of the brain that controls the skin’s ability to make sweat. Sweating is the body’s natural cooling system. If a person cannot sweat, they are at risk for overheating.
* Beta-blockers reduce the ability of the heart and lungs to adapt to stresses, including hot weather. This also increases a person’s likelihood of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.
* Amphetamines can raise body temperature.
* Diuretics act on kidneys and encourage fluid loss. This can quickly lead to dehydration in hot weather.
* Sedatives can reduce a person’s awareness of physical discomfort which means symptoms of heat stress may be ignored.
* Ephedrine/Pseudoephedrine found in over the counter decongestants decrease blood flow to the skin and impact the body’s ability to cool down.
Here are some easy tips to help seniors stay cool and beat the heat:
Drink Up - Seniors need to drink plenty of water or juice, even if they are not thirsty. Dehydration is the cause of many heat-related health problems. Avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, which can contribute to dehydration.
Dress Cool - When it is hot out, seniors should wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat.
Mind the Midday Hours - During extreme heat, seniors should stay indoors between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. when the temperatures tend to be hotter.
Take it Easy - Seniors should avoid exercise and strenuous activity, particularly outdoors when temperatures are on the rise.
Aim for A/C - If a senior’s home is not air-conditioned, they should seek out a public place with air conditioning during times of extreme heat, such as a mall.