How to Beat the Heat

A senior couple takes a water break while exercising outdoors.As you get older, exposure to hot temperatures puts you at greater risk of getting a heat-related illness – especially if you have a chronic medical condition like diabetes or heart disease.

To stay healthy, it’s important to know the signs and dangers. The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, offers advice to deal with the dangers of heat fatigue, sudden dizziness after prolonged heat exposure, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These are all forms of hyperthermia, which is caused by a failure of the body’s heat-regulating mechanisms to deal with a hot environment.

Your lifestyle also can affect how susceptible you are to heat stroke. If you don’t stay hydrated, don’t have air conditioning or don’t have access to transportation so you can get to a cooler environment on hot and humid days, you’re putting yourself at risk.

Several things can increase the risk of hyperthermia, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat production
  • Use of multiple medications. Continue to take prescribed medications and discuss possible problems with your health care provider.
  • Reduced sweating caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs
  • High blood pressure or other health conditions that require changes in diet. If you’re on a salt-restricted diet, you may be at an increased risk, but salt pills shouldn’t be used until you talk with your doctor.
  • Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever
  • Being substantially overweight or underweight
  • Drinking alcohol

Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia, and it occurs when your body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. Heat stroke symptoms include a spike in your body temperature (typically above 104 degrees); confusion or combativeness; a strong, rapid pulse; dry, flushed skin; not sweating; feeling faint; staggering; or coma.

Seek immediate emergency medical attention and call 911 if you or someone you know has these symptoms. Until help arrives, the person should lie down, apply cold, wet cloths to the neck, wrists and armpits, drink water or fruit juice, or take a cool shower or bath.