Extreme Heat

by Nicole Van Nelson, National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA). This post originally appeared on the NICOA blog.

It is officially summer time, and with summer comes hot weather. Unfortunately, sometimes the weather gets too hot and becomes extreme heat, which can cause heat-related illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that “around 618 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year” even though heat-related deaths and illness are preventable.

Heat-related illnesses happen when the body is not able to properly cool itself, and in extreme heat evaporation is slowed so your body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. On top of this, some people are more at risk of developing heat-related illness, including older adults. Older adults, 65 years or older, are more at risk because they do not adjust to sudden changes in temperature as well as younger people, they are more likely to have chronic medical conditions that can change the normal body responses to heat, and they are more likely to take prescription medications that can affect the body’s ability to control temperature or sweat.

Types of Heat-Related Illnesses

Examples of heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn, and heat rash. You can find a list of these heat-related illnesses, what to look for, and what to do from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/warning.html.

Prevention

Some heat-related illnesses are extremely serious and can even lead to death, so knowing what to look for is important, but there are also some safety tips that can help with prevention.

The CDC recommends that you:

  • Stay Cool
    • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
    • Stay indoors in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. If you do not have air conditioning go to a public location that does, like the shopping mall or public library.
    • Limit your outdoor activity to when it is the coolest, usually mornings and evenings, and rest often in shady areas to allow your body to recover.
    • Cut down on exercising during the heat and pace yourself.
    • Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat.
    • Avoid hot and heavy meals, as they add heat to your body.
  • Stay Hydrated
    • Drink plenty of fluids, and don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. If you have to limit the amount you drink for medical reasons, consult your doctor on how much you should drink when the weather is hot.
    • Stay away from very sugary or drinks with alcohol.
    • Replace salt and minerals, as heavy sweating removes these and they need to be replaced. A good way to do this is by drinking a sports drink.
  • Stay Informed
    • Check your local news for updates on the weather, extreme heat alerts, safety tips, and potential cooling shelters in your area.
    • Learn the signs, symptoms, and how to treat heat-related illnesses.
    • Use a buddy system. Have someone check in and monitor your conditions, as heat-induced illnesses can often cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness.
    • Monitor those who are high at risk, including older adults, infants, young children, those who are overweight, people who overexert during work or exercise, and those that are physically ill.