Sue’s bus was late. Even though it was noon on a very hot summer day, she decided to walk from the grocery store to her home. At 72—healthy and active—Sue thought the heat would be no match for her! Yet, after walking just one block, she felt dizzy and weak.
Unfortunately, being too hot for too long can be a problem. It can cause several illnesses, all grouped under the name hyperthermia:
- Heat syncope is a sudden dizziness that can happen when you are active in hot weather. If you take a heart medication called a beta blocker or are not used to hot weather, you are even more likely to feel faint. Rest in a cool place, put your legs up, and drink water to make the dizzy feeling go away.
- Heat cramps are the painful tightening of muscles in your stomach, arms, or legs. Cramps can result from hard work or exercise. Though your body temperature and pulse usually stay normal during heat cramps, your skin may feel moist and cool. Find a way to cool your body down. Rest in the shade or in a cool building. Drink plenty of fluids, but not those with alcohol or caffeine.
- Heat edema is a swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot. Put your legs up to help reduce swelling. If that doesn’t work fairly quickly, check with your doctor.
- Heat exhaustion is a warning that your body can no longer keep itself cool. You might feel thirsty, dizzy, weak, uncoordinated, and nauseated. You may sweat a lot. Your body temperature may stay normal, but your skin may feel cold and clammy. Some people with heat exhaustion have a rapid pulse. Rest in a cool place and get plenty of fluids. If you don’t feel better soon, get medical care. Be careful—heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.
If you have heat stroke, you need to get medical help right away. Older people living in homes or apartments without air conditioning or fans are at most risk. People who become dehydrated or those with chronic diseases or alcoholism are also at most risk. Signs of heat stroke are:
- Fainting (possibly the first sign) or becoming unconscious
- A change in behaviour—confusion, agitation, staggering, being grouchy, or acting strangely
- Body temperature over 40 degrees
- Dry, flushed skin and a strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse
- Not sweating even if it is hot
Each year, most people who die from hyperthermia are over 50 years old. Health problems that put you at greater risk include:
- Heart or blood vessel problems
- Poorly working sweat glands or changes in your skin caused by normal ageing
- Heart, lung, or kidney disease, as well as any illness that makes you feel weak all over or results in a fever
- Conditions treated by drugs, such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and some heart and high blood pressure medicines; they may make it harder for your body to cool itself
- Taking several prescription drugs; ask your doctor if any of your medications make you more likely to become overheated
- Being very overweight or underweight
- Drinking alcoholic beverages
Older people can have a tough time dealing with heat and humidity. The temperature inside or outside does not have to reach 40 degrees to put you at risk for a heat-related illness.
Headache, confusion, dizziness, or nausea could be a sign of a heat-related illness. Go to the doctor or an emergency room to find out if you need treatment.
And, if you’re thinking of going outside be informed by weather reports.