People suffer heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion when the body’s temperature-control system is overloaded. Sweating is the body’s natural way of cooling itself. In some situations, especially in periods of high humidity, sweating alone will not provide an adequate release of body heat.
Conditions that can limit the body’s ability to regulate temperature in hot weather are old age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, poor circulation, sunburn and drug and alcohol use. Among those at highest risk for heat stroke or heat exhaustion are:
- Infants and children up to 4 years old.
- People 65 and older.
- People who are overweight.
- People who over-exert during work or exercise.
- People who are ill or on certain medications.
Information for seniors
People aged 65 years or older are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. People in this category should be given and reminded of the following information:
- Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible. Contact your local health department or locate an air-conditioned shelter in your area.
- Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device during an extreme heat event.
- Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
- Check on a friend or neighbor and have someone do the same for you.
- Don’t use the stove or oven to cook -- it will make you and your house hotter.
- Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
- Take cool showers or baths to cool down.
- Check the local news for health and safety updates.
- Seek medical care immediately if you have, or someone you know has, symptoms of heat-related illness like muscle cramps, headaches, nausea or vomiting.
Drink cool fluids
- Help your body sweat and cool down by staying well hydrated with water. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. Adults should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Monitor your body; you may need to drink more on hot and humid days.
- Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working or exercising outside.
- Avoid fluids that contain alcohol or caffeine, because they can add to dehydration and increase the effects of heat illness.
- Do not take salt tablets without a doctor’s advice.
Monitor or limit outdoor activities
- Plan outdoor activities for the early morning or the evening, when the sun is less direct.
- Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
- A wide-brimmed hat protects against sunburn and helps keep the body cooler.
- Move to the shade or into an air-conditioned building at the first signs of heat illness.
- Very young children may become preoccupied with outdoor play and not realize they are overheated. Adults should mandate frequent “breaks” and bring children indoors for a cool drink.
- Children or adolescents involved in team sports should be closely monitored for signs of heat stress. Consideration should be given to modifying practice or play during the hottest parts of the day.
Know the signs of heat exhaustion
- Remember, heat-related symptoms can come on quickly.
- Symptoms of heat exhaustion are: heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or fainting. People experiencing these symptoms should be moved to a cool, shady or air-conditioned area, and provided cool, non-alcoholic beverages.
- Remove layers of clothing, if possible.
Know the signs of heat stroke
- Heat stroke is a potentially life-threatening condition, characterized by: a body temperature of 103 degrees or higher; red, hot and dry skin with no sweating; rapid pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; unconsciousness; and gray skin color.
- People experiencing heat stroke need immediate medical assistance.
- Before help arrives, begin cooling the victim by any means possible, such as spray from a garden hose or by placing the person in a cool tub of water.
Don’t forget your pets
- Animals kept outdoors should have plenty of fresh water and a covered area to get out of the sun and cool down.
- Consider jogging in the early morning or evening to help keep pets and yourself cool.
The best defense against heat-related problems is prevention. Staying cool and making simple changes in fluid intake, activities and clothing during hot weather will help keep you safe and healthy.