For many people, summer is a time for warm, sunny days, outdoor activities, vacations and picnics with family and friends.
However, summer can also bring extreme heat, increased risk of dehydration, foodborne illness and other health risks. Recognizing these risks and taking preventative steps will allow you to enjoy your summer without paying the price.
Every year thousands of people suffer from heat-related conditions (hyperthermia) like heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every year around 300 people in the U.S. die from excessive heat exposure.
People suffer heat-related illnesses when their bodies are not able to compensate for the heat and properly cool itself. Older adults are more susceptible as their bodies return to normal temperatures more slowly and their bodies’ cooling mechanism is not as efficient.
Being overweight, having poor circulation, chronic medical conditions and high blood pressure or taking certain medications can also increase your risk. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain and vital organs. Protect yourself by following these prevention tips:
Air-conditioning is the primary protective factor against heat-related illness and death. If you don’t have it, or to save money on your electric bill during the heat of the day, visit air-conditioned senior centers, shopping malls and public libraries to help stay cool.
During times of extreme heat temperatures, stay indoors. Schedule outdoor activities carefully, limit sun exposure and rest in shaded areas. Remember the sun is hottest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Wear Appropriate Clothing
When outdoors, wear lightweight, loose fitting and light-colored clothing. Don’t forget sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.
Dehydration is common among older adults and can be life threatening. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, consuming fruits and vegetables and avoiding caffeinated and/or alcoholic beverages that can act as a diuretic. Don’t wait to drink until you are thirsty. That can be a sign of dehydration!
Always Wear Sunscreen
A sunburn damages your skin, causes a loss of body fluids and affects your body’s ability to cool itself. Sunscreen can also protect against skin cancer, which is strongly associated with ultraviolet radiation that comes from the sun. Look for sunscreen that offers “broad spectrum” protection and is SPF 30 or higher.
Other skin cancer prevention tips include wearing protective clothing, avoiding midday sun exposure and seeing your doctor for a skin exam.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include a significant increase in body temperature (generally above 104 degrees Fahrenheit) changes in mental status, such as confusion on combativeness, a strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, or feeling faint. If you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat-stroke, call 911.
If you suspect that someone is suffering from heat stress or heat exhaustion, get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. If they can swallow safely, offer them some water (avoid beverages containing alcohol or caffeine). Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits and groin. Finally, encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water, if safe to do so.
When in doubt, always seek medical treatment.
For more information on family resource management or adult development and aging, contact the Marais des Cygnes Extension District in Paola at (913) 294-4306 or Mound City at (913) 795-2829 or write to email@example.com.
Source: Adapted with permission from University of Arkansas Research and Extension and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.