Heat Related Illnesses Every Senior Should Be Aware Of
Summer is a popular time to get outdoors, but it is also the time of year where the weather can get quite warm and unfortunately quite dangerous. While most people know that being hot is uncomfortable, what many people don’t realize is that this warm weather can also come with some heat-related illnesses.
While any adult or child can be susceptible to heat-related illnesses, seniors are even more prone to these heat-related illnesses. Heat-related illnesses can occur after intense or prolonged exposure to hot temperatures. Common heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion, heat stroke (or sunstroke), extreme dehydration and heat cramps.
Unfortunately, just getting indoors and trying to cool down typically isn’t enough to get over these heat-related illnesses. This is because as the body works to cool itself off—blood can rush to the surface of your skin, and cause less blood to reach your muscles, brain, and other vital organs. This can lead to serious issues, weakness, fainting, serious dangers and hospitalization.
There are three main types of these illnesses that seniors need to be particularly aware of:
Heat Exhaustion- This happens when the body loses a lot of water and salt through sweating. This is most common after exercising outdoors or being in a prolonged situation with excessive labor or sweating. When the body loses essential fluids, it can impact circulation and eventually brain function. It is even more dangerous for seniors who have heart, lung or kidney problems or those who are on low-sodium diets for other health concerns.
Heat Cramps- These also happen when the body loses too much water or salt. When heat cramps occur, they are not only painful, but they typically indicate the body is losing other essential nutrients like potassium and magnesium. It is most common during excessive sweating periods or periods where seniors are exerting themselves in the heat.
Heat Stroke- This is the most serious of the heat-related illnesses and occurs when the body has been exposed to heat for long, intense periods of time. Heat stroke occurs when the body is no longer able to cool itself mostly because the part of the brain that regulates body temperature starts to malfunction. The body is unable to sweat and eventually unable to cool down. Seniors with certain medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis or those on certain medications may be at a greater risk of suffering from heat stroke.
Being out in the sun can also put seniors at risk for sunburn, sun rash and serious dehydration. Of course, the best way to make sure that seniors aren’t falling victim to heat-related illnesses like this is to stay hydrated, always wear cool, light layers in the summer and to avoid the heat whenever possible. Seniors should try to stay indoors in the middle of the day in the summer and make sure they are drinking 8-10 glasses of water per day when the heat is at its highest.
- Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center, earning first-place for her senior research project and placed in the 98th percentile on the national exam for OB/GYN residents in the U.S..
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