Almost every summer there's a week or two of seriously hot temperatures. Too much heat is not safe for anyone, but it's quite risky for older people or people who have chronic illnesses. Our bodies work hard to maintain a balance between how much heat is made and how much is lost. Too much heat causes sweating. When the sweat dries from your skin, the surface of your body cools, and your temperature goes down.
But being hot for too long can be a problem. The body can't keep up with cooling itself and hyperthermia can result. Untreated, hyperthermia can cause your heart to overwork and stop. There are several illnesses that are associated with hyperthermia.
Heat syncope is a sudden dizziness that may happen when you are active during the hot weather. Drinking water, putting your legs up and resting in a cool place should make the dizziness stop. If the symptoms do not clear quickly, you should contact your doctor.
Heat cramps are the painful tightening of muscles in your stomach, arms or legs. Cramps can result from hard work or exercise in the heat. Your body temperature and pulse usually will stay normal while your skin may feel moist and cool. The cramps are a sign that you are too hot. Find a way to cool down. Rest in the shade or in a cool building. Drink plenty of water, but not caffeine or alcohol as these cause dehydration. If the symptoms do not clear quickly, please contact your doctor.
Heat edema is swellling in your ankles and feet when you get hot. Check with your doctor if your ankles swell in hot weather.
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. Even though your body temperature stays normal, your skin feels cold and clammy and your pulse may increase. Rest in a cool place and drink water. If you don't feel better quickly, get emergency care at your local hospital. Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke.
Heat stroke can be life threatening! You need medical help right away. Older people living without air conditioning or fans are at the highest risk for this. Signs of heat stroke include fainting, body temperature over 104°, confusion, staggering, dry flushed skin, agitation and coma.
To protect yourself this summer: Drink plenty of water or fruit juices - the hotter the day, the more you should drink. Keep your house as cool as possible (pull shades, use fans, avoid using your oven). If you don't have air conditioning, try to go to a cool place during the hottest part of the day (the mall, library, movie theater, etc.) and avoid strenuous work during excessively hot days.
Remember to check on your neighbors during heat waves - especially older friends or those without air conditioning.
For more information about this or other health topics, please contact your health care professional.