The Heat Is On!

July 6th, 2020

Summer is a time to enjoy the great outdoors!  However, extreme heat can be very dangerous to your health, especially for the very young, very old, and people with chronic medical issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes.  Here are some tips to help you and your family stay safe this summer.

  • Stay hydrated!  Be sure to drink plenty of water.  By the time most of us are thirsty, we are already slightly dehydrated.  As we age, the thirst center of the brain becomes less sensitive.  Elderly people may not think they are dehydrated until it is too late.  They are also more likely to  have prostate (men) or bladder issues and may consciously try to reduce their fluid intake so they will not have to look for a bathroom when they leave the house.  They may also have mobility issues and difficulty walking to get the water they need when they are feeling thirsty.
  • How do you know you are well hydrated?  You should be urinating at least every hour and the urine should be clear, not cloudy or dark colored.  If this is not the case, your body is likely trying to hold onto water.  Start drinking water until you feel the urge to urinate.
  • Avoid alcohol as it is a diuretic, which means it actually causes your body to lose water and can hasten dehydration.  It can also mask the early symptoms of heatstroke.
  • Check the forecast.  Consider postponing any outdoor events or activities in excessive heat.
  • Keep cool, especially when the temperature is over 85 degrees Fahrenheit or the air is very humid.  Stay indoors, in an air-conditioned car or in the shade particularly between the hours of 12-3 pm when the sun is very intense.  Drinking cold, non-alcoholic beverages, or jumping into a pool or ocean can lower your body temperature down quickly.  Some people may be reluctant to turn on the air conditioner, but you should encourage them to do so particularly if they are older or have chronic medical conditions or breathing issues.  If an air conditioner is not available, you can use a fan or place towels soaked in cool water on the forehead, neck, and armpits.
  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or more.  Sunburns can feel very painful and greatly increase your risk for skin cancer.  Reapply if you go into the water as most sunscreens are not truly “waterproof”, even if the label says so.
  • Stay in the shade and keep you body covered.  Wear wide brimmed hats or use an umbrella if you must be outdoors for long periods of time in the sun.  Light-colored and loose-fitting clothing such as linen or cotton are ideal as they can cover up exposed skin, while allowing good airflow underneath.
  • Avoid excessive exertion when the temperature rises.  Save the arduous yard work or outdoor workouts for cloudy days or the early morning hours.  Instead, you can exercise indoors with air conditioning. People with asthma need to take extra precautions as exercising in hot, humid, pollen-filled air can trigger serious breathing problems.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.  These usually contain over 80% of water and can provide electrolytes such as potassium, which is essential to prevent muscle cramps that often come with being in the heat and dehydration.
  • Eat cool foods such as frozen juice pops, fresh salads and cold soups such as gazpacho.  Avoid heavy, greasy, hot-temperature foods as these can raise our body temperature and can make digestion more difficult. Standing near a hot grill can also raise your body temperature and make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Check in with people around you, especially the elderly and the young.  Some symptoms of health issues with heat include:  mental confusion, racing heartbeat (usually over 100 beats per minute), dizziness upon standing, feeling lethargic, shallow and rapid breathing, blurry vision, inability to urinate, nausea, fainting, and loss of appetite.  In severe cases, excessive dehydration and heat can lead to a condition called heat stroke, which is a potentially deadly and needs to be treated immediately in a hospital.  Whenever I’m at a picnic or outdoor event in the summer, I always bring extra bottles of water and hand them to any elderly people in the group.  I always remind people to “stay ahead of your thirst”.
Outdoor events are one of many enjoyable things in summertime.  Just be sure to take precautions and stay safe in the heat!