Beating the Summer Heat and Avoiding Heat Stroke
Summer heat in southern Ontario is stretching into late September, and even early October in recent years, and it is important for seniors to stay protected against the hazards of the harsh sun.
Aside from the hot weather extending into what used to be the fall, the sun itself has also become a lot more unforgiving, and can cause significant skin damage in a very short time. Problems like heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be a real problem for seniors, as they are more susceptible to extreme heat and sudden temperature swings.
There is also the concern of how existing medical conditions and medications can compromise the body’s ability to adjust to excessive heat.
Health Concerns Caused by Extreme Heat
There are several health conditions and ailments for seniors to be concerned about in the sweltering summer heat. Knowing the dangers of these conditions, as well as the symptoms and warning signs to look out for, can help prevent problems before they start.
Some heat related conditions for seniors to be vigilant about, are:
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat stroke
- Heat syncope
This is a fairly common problem for older adults in the summer, that is caused when the body loses more fluids than it is taking in. If your body is lacking sufficient water, and other essential fluids, it is no longer able to preform its required functions properly. If these fluids are not quickly replaced, dehydration is the likely result.
There are some warning signs that can help you recognize the onset of dehydration. Some symptoms to watch for, may include:
- Muscle cramps
- Dry mouth
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should get out of the sun and drink some water immediately.
More serious cases of dehydration can easily lead to heat exhaustion, if not urgently attended. Dehydration is often a contributing factor to heat exhaustion, accompanied by physical activity that makes it difficult for the body to adequately cool itself.
Warning signs of heat exhaustion, typically include:
- Dehydration symptoms
- Cold or clammy skin
- Excessive sweating
- No sweating due to lack of fluid for perspiration
- Change in pulse or breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Passing out
Heat stroke is yet one more step up in severity from heat exhaustion. The symptoms for heat stroke are similar to those for heat exhaustion, with the addition of an alarming rise in body temperature.
Some signs of heat stroke, are:
- Same symptoms of heat exhaustion
- Sunburned or red skin that is hot to the touch
- Body temperature of 103 or more
- Loss of consciousness
Heat syncope is often a symptom of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It is characterized by fainting or passing out caused by the sun or intense heat.
Health Conditions that may Contribute to Heat Problems
Existing health conditions can sometimes trigger or intensify the threatening effects of excessive heat and the harsh sun.
Seniors with the following conditions may be at a greater risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke:
- High blood pressure
- Poor circulation
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Mental illness
Older adults with any of these conditions should be extra careful when making a trip out in the sun. Anyone experiencing symptoms of heat stroke should get out of the sun, put their feet up, and drink plenty of fluids.
Avoiding Heat Stroke
There are many safety tips seniors can follow to avoid sun stroke and the ill effects of the summer heat.
Summer safety tips, include:
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid peak sun hours
- Wear appropriate clothing
- Apply sunscreen
- Take advantage of air con
One of the best ways to avoid health problems in the heat is stay hydrated. It is recommended that all adults, especially seniors, drink at least 2 litres of water every day to stay healthy and hydrated.
This is based on the 8X8 rule; 8 servings of an 8 ounce glass of water daily.
As we get older, we are no longer able to conserve water as effectively, so seniors need to be extra conscientious. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they contribute to dehydration. Additional water should be consumed if physical exercise is involved.
Avoid Peak Sun Hours
Late morning to late afternoon is when the sun is at its strongest. Only go out during these times if absolutely necessary.
Light colored and loose fitting clothes are the most practical for hot summer days. Don’t forget a hat and sunglasses to protect your head and face.
Always apply sunscreen to exposed skin when heading outside in the summer. The sun can even do damage when the weather is overcast. SPF of at least 50 is highly recommended.
Pop into the library or an air conditioned store to cool down along your travels to catch a break from the relentless heat.