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Heat – We are not all created equal | Prime Living

Health & Wellness

 

Last updated 7/28/2021 at 10:43am



The historic heat wave last month left many of us sweltering and trying to figure out a way to stay cool. Luckily, I work in an air-conditioned building, and my family spent those hot days at my in-laws in their air-conditioned house. Not everyone was as lucky, and for many, heat can be more than just uncomfortable, it can be deadly.

As we age, our body loses the ability to adapt to sudden changes in temperature. This can be caused by chronic conditions that affect one’s ability to react to heat. Multiple Sclerosis and Diabetes are two diseases that can increase someone’s intolerance to heat. Heart disease, mental illness, poor blood circulation and obesity are risk factors for having a heat-related illness. Also, as we age, we are more likely to be taking medication that affects our ability to sweat and regulate our body temperature.

With the potential for more hot days in the future, it is important to know how to stay hydrated, cool and know the signs of heat-related illnesses. Seniors are more susceptible to dehydration than younger people because they lose their ability to conserve water as they age. They also can become less aware of their thirst.

A good indicator of whether we are well hydrated is the color of our urine. A light yellow or clear color is a good indicator that we are getting enough fluids. Other signs of dehydration are headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps, lack of energy, tiredness with minimal activity, dry mouth, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate and confusion.

If your doctor limits the amount of fluids you drink, or if you are taking water pills, ask them how much you should drink during hot weather. Wearing loose-fitted clothing and taking cool showers is also a good way to try to stay cool.

Fans are not always a great source to stay cool as they just tend to move hot air around. If fans are your only cooling source, you can put a bucket of ice in front of the fan. This will cool the air that is circulated. Another way to cool the air is by freezing an empty plastic liter bottle, place on a tray and cover with a damp cloth. Put the tray in front of the fan. If your home is still too hot, visiting the mall, library or a designated cooling station is always a good option.

If we don’t get enough hydration or get too hot, we risk getting heat stroke, heat exhaustion or heat cramps. It is important to recognize the symptoms of these heat-related illnesses. Signs of heat stroke may include a body temperature of 103F or higher, dry or damp, hot skin, fast, strong pulse, confusion and loss of consciousness. This is a medical emergency, and 911 should be called immediately. If one is experiencing heat exhaustion, symptoms may include dizziness, headache, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, breathing complications, and fainting. If this happens, move to a cool place, loosen tight clothing, put a damp cloth on your body and drink water. If vomiting or nausea get worse, and symptoms do not get better in an hour, call 911.

Heat cramps is a condition involving muscle spasms and pain, typically due to strenuous exercise. Older adults are at higher risk for developing heat cramps as they easily become dehydrated. If you experience these symptoms, stop physical activity immediately and move to a cool place. Hydrate and seek medical help if symptoms persist for more than an hour.

It is important to remember that, as we age, dehydration and heat affect us much more than when we were younger. It is important to drink plenty of fluids and recognize when our body is too overheated.

 

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