Being Smart about Summer Heat
When the temperature is in the 90s and it stays there for several days, old people and very young people are most susceptible to suffering from heat related illnesses. Your body has to work extremely hard to keep itself cooled to 98.6 degrees. According to the National Weather Service, each year about 185 Americans die of heat-related illness. But the weather service suggests that the numbers are probably higher, because many deaths attributed to heart attack are probably caused by the heat.
Types of heat-related illness and symptoms
The National Weather Service has developed a “heat index” that tells you how hot it feels when the effects of humidity are accounted for. Here are some heat-related illnesses you could be prone to when the heat and humidity are at their peak this summer:
Heat index of 90 to 105: heat exhaustion
heavy sweating, weakness; cold, pale, and clammy skin; weak pulse; fainting and vomiting.
Treatment: get out of the sun; apply cool, wet cloths; loosen your clothing. Drink fluids if not vomiting and seek medical attention immediately.
Heat index of 105 to 130: Heat cramps
painful spasms in arm, leg and abdominal muscles.
Treatment: firm pressure or gentle massage can help.
Causes: loss of water and salt from the body. Drinking water may help if not vomiting.
Heat index of 130 or higher: heatstroke or sunstroke
high body temperature (105 degrees or more); hot, dry skin; rapid and strong pulse; confusion; possible loss of consciousness. This is a severe medical emergency. Call emergency medical personnel, and move to a cooler place while you wait. A cold sponge bath is beneficial. Drink water if not vomiting.
Preventing heat-related illness
What can you do to keep yourself from getting overheated this summer?
Adjust your activity level. Even if you’re one of those people who gets exercise every day and is in good shape, you still need to watch it when it’s hot. Don’t exercise during the hottest part of the day. On some days, it might be best not to exercise at all. Even going outside to run an errand can be difficult, so try to avoid any running around in the late morning and in the afternoon.
Spend time in air conditioning as much as you can. If you don’t have air conditioning, or if it’s too expense to keep yours on, go to a mall, library, senior center, a movie or anyplace else you can think of that has AC. You need to give your system a break, because it’s always working to keep your body from getting overheated. If you don’t drive and have trouble getting out, ask for help. If family members, friends, or neighbors aren’t available, look in the yellow pages of your phone book under “Senior Citizens Services.” Or ask your doctor for advice about organizations that can help you.
Eat for the heat. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables when it’s hot, and limit the higher protein foods, such as meat, which increase the internal heat your body produces. Fruits and vegetables have a lot of water, which helps keep you cooler.
Drink water regularly, even if you’re not thirsty. Keep a glass of water next to you, and fill it throughout the day. If you have certain health problems, such as kidney or liver disease, heart failure, or epilepsy, or if you’re on a diet that restricts fluids, ask your doctor whether you should drink more water when the weather is hot.
Avoid alcohol. It interferes with your body’s ability to regulate its temperature. It also acts as a diuretic, removing fluid from your body more quickly.
American Red Cross; National Weather Service; American Medical Athletic Association