Summer is in full swing. With it comes picnics, outdoor events, gardening, fishing, and other outdoor activities. While sun safety is a thoroughly-discussed topic when it comes to UV protection, heat safety is less of a hot topic. Nonetheless, it’s an important part of summer safety, especially for seniors.
Too much heat is not safe for anyone, but seniors are even more susceptible to its risks. Some of the more mild effects of too much heat are feeling dizzy, confused, or faint. On the more serious side, your heart could become stressed and stop beating.
Being too hot for too long can cause hyperthermia. Symptoms might include:
- Sudden dizziness. If you take beta blockers or are not often outdoors in the hot weather, your risk of feeling faint is higher. If this happens, you should immediately rest in a cool place, elevate your legs and drink plenty of water.
- Heat cramps. The painful tightening of the muscles can occur in your stomach, arms, or legs. Most often, cramps are the result of physically exerting yourself in the heat. Go inside, if possible, or rest in the shade. Get fluids immediately and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Heat edema. Some people may experience swelling of the ankles and feet when they get hot. If this happens to you, prop your feet up to reduce the swelling. If that doesn’t take care of the problem, you may need to check in with your doctor.
- Heat exhaustion. When your body can no longer keep itself cool, you might begin to feel thirsty, dizzy, weak, or nauseated. You may be sweating excessively and experiencing a rapid pulse. If you begin to experience these symptoms, it’s imperative to rest in a cool place immediately and take in plenty of fluids. If you don’t feel better quickly, you may need to seek medical attention.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency and should be treated as such. If you are having a heat stroke, you need to seek emergency medical attention immediately.
People who become dehydrated are most at risk of heat stroke. Those with chronic diseases or excessive alcohol consumption are also at high risk. Warning signs of heat stroke are:
- Fainting or unconsciousness
- Change in behavior (agitation, staggering, confusion, irritability, or actively strangely)
- Elevated body temperature
- Strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse
- Failure to sweat, even in the heat
If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Did you know that most people who die from hyperthermia are over the age of 50? Additionally, these are things that put you at an even greater risk:
- Heart or blood vessel issues
- Poorly working sweat glands
- Heart, lung, or kidney disease
- Long-term medications for conditions such as high blood pressure
- Being overweight or underweight
- Consuming alcoholic beverages
Heat-related illnesses can be serious, but they are also mostly preventable with proper planning and precautions.
Be sure to drink plenty of liquids, preferably water or electrolyte-infused drinks. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
If you do not have air conditioners or fans in your home, try to keep the house as cool as possible by keeping blinds closed during the day, limited oven use, and opening your windows at night. You can also plan to spend time in an air-conditioned location during the hottest part of the day (mall, movies, library, etc).
Dress for the heat. Natural fabrics, such as cotton, are often cooler than synthetic fibers. Less isn’t always best in the heat. It may be better to wear sleeves and pants to protect your skin from the heat of the sun.
Avoid exercise or strenuous activities outdoors, especially during the hottest part of the day. If you enjoy walking, take your stroll early morning or late evening before the sun sets.
Taking extra precautions in the heat will help you stay safe while still enjoying the sunshine and beautiful weather of summer.