Hyperthermia: Too Hot for Your Health (cont.)

Hundreds of people die from hyperthermia each year during very hot weather. Most are over 50 years old. The temperature outside or inside does not have to hit 100° F for you to be at risk for a heat-related illness. Health problems that put you at risk include:

  • Heart or blood vessel problems, poorly working sweat glands, or changes in your skin caused by normal aging.
  • Heart, lung, or kidney disease, as well as any illness that makes you feel weak all over or causes a fever.
  • High blood pressure or other conditions that make it necessary for you to change some of the foods you eat. For example, if you are supposed to avoid salt in your food, your risk of heat-related illness may be higher. Check with your doctor.
  • Conditions treated by drugs such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and some heart and blood pressure medicines. These may make it harder for your body to cool itself by perspiring.
  • Taking several drugs for a variety of health problems. Keep taking your prescriptions, but ask your doctor what to do if the drugs you are taking make you more likely to become overheated.
  • Being quite a bit overweight or underweight.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages.

How Can I Lower My Risk?

Things you can do to lower your risk of heat-related illness:

  • Drink plenty of liquids - water or fruit and vegetable juices. Every day you should drink at least eight glasses to keep your body working properly. Heat tends to make you lose fluids so it is very important to drink at least that much, if not more, when it is hot. Avoid drinks containing caffeine or alcohol. They make you lose more fluids. If your doctor has told you to limit your liquids, ask him or her what you should do when it is very hot.
  • If you live in a home or apartment without fans or air conditioning, be sure to follow these steps to lower your chance of heat problems:
    • open windows at night;
    • create cross-ventilation by opening windows on two sides of the building;
    • cover windows when they are in direct sunlight;
    • keep curtains, shades or blinds drawn during the hottest part of the day;
    • try to spend at least 2 hours a day (if possible during the hottest part of the day) some place air-conditioned - for example, the shopping mall, the movies, the library, a senior center, or a friend's house if you don't have air conditioning.
  • Check with your local area agency on aging to see if there is a program that provides window air conditioners to seniors who qualify.
  • If you think you can't afford to run your air conditioner in the summer, contact your local area agency on aging. Or, ask at your local senior center. They may know if there are any programs in your community to aid people who need help paying their cooling bills. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is one possible source.
  • Ask a friend or relative to drive you to a cool place on very hot days if you don't have a car or no longer drive. Many towns or counties, area agencies, religious groups, and senior citizen centers provide such services. If necessary, take a taxi. Don't stand outside waiting for a bus.
  • Pay attention to the weather reports. You are more at risk as the temperature or humidity rise or when there is an air pollution alert in effect.
  • Dress for the weather. Some people find natural fabrics such as cotton to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Light-colored clothes reflect the sun and heat better than dark colors. If you are unsure about what to wear, ask a friend or family member to help you select clothing that will help you stay cool.
  • Don't try to exercise or do a lot of activities when it is hot.
  • Avoid crowded places when it's hot outside. Plan trips during non-rush hour times.

What Should I Remember?

Headache, confusion, dizziness, or nausea when you're in a hot place or during hot weather could be a sign of a heat-related illness. Go to the doctor or an emergency room to find out if you need treatment. To keep heat-related illnesses from becoming a dangerous heat stroke, remember to:

  • Get out of the sun and into a cool place - air-conditioning is best.
  • Offer fluids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine. Water and fruit and vegetable juices are best.
  • Shower or bathe, or at least sponge off with cool water.
  • Lie down and rest, if possible in a cool place.
  • Visit your doctor or an emergency room if you don't cool down quickly.

For more, please read the Hyperthermia article.

Source: National Institute of Aging, National Institutes of Health

Last Editorial Review: 3/21/2006