Extreme Heat Extreme Heat
Centers for Disease Control
Hot weather can be dangerous to your health. Learn about the potential health risks of extreme heat and discover ways to protect yourself and your neighbors, especially the elderly, who are more prone to heat stress.
It’s 9:00 am. You check the weather report because your company picnic will be at the park later in the afternoon. The temperature is already 80°, and the high is supposed to be near 100°. You’re probably wondering how on earth you will survive the heat.
For some people, summertime tends to be packed with outdoor activities. On the other hand, there are other individuals, such as at-risk elderly people (aged 65 or older) who may spend most of the time indoors, but have no air conditioning. Before you head outside for the summer, or if you are an at-risk elderly person who will be mostly indoors without air conditioning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge you to understand what extreme heat is, become familiar with its potential health risks, and discover ways to protect yourself.
Let’s get started with these topics:
• What is Extreme Heat?
• What Are the Potential Health Risks Associated With Extreme Heat?
• How Can I Protect Myself?
What is Extreme Heat?
Extreme heat is weather characterized by temperatures that hover 10 degrees or more above the average high temperature for the region and lasts for several weeks. Associated with extreme heat are humid or muggy conditions, which add to the discomfort of high temperatures.
What Are the Potential Health Risks Associated with Extreme Heat?
Your body has an internal thermostat that is designed to help you maintain proper body temperatures. However, sometimes extreme heat can cause your thermostat to malfunction, which can result in one or more of the following conditions:
• Heat Rash. Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age but is most common in young children. Although heat rash occurs because of exposure to extreme heat, treating heat rash is simple and usually does not require medical assistance. Other heat-related problems such as those listed below can be much more severe.
• Heat Cramps. Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat heavily during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles may be the cause of heat cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
• Heat Exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. It is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.
• Heat Stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
• Heat-Related Deaths. Most heat-related deaths occur when high temperatures overcome the body’s natural ability to cope with heat. The elderly, very young children and persons with chronic medical conditions (especially cardiovascular disease) are at highest risk.
How Can I Protect Myself From Heat-Related Illness?
Because hot weather can be dangerous to your health, being indoors and taking advantage of air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. However, if you must be outside during extremely hot weather, learn how to protect yourself from heat-related illness. For example, be sure to do the following:
• Drink plenty of fluids
• Replace salt and minerals
• Wear proper clothing and sunscreen
• Schedule outdoor activities appropriately
• Use a buddy system
Elderly people, however, are more prone to heat stress than younger people for several reasons. For example:
• Elderly people do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature.
• They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that upsets normal body responses to heat.
• They are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration.
There are ways to protect yourself and loved ones from the possible health effects of HPV.
If you are elderly and are without air conditioning, here are some helpful tips for avoiding heat-related stress:
• Drink cool, non-alcoholic beverages. (If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him or her how much you should drink when the weather is hot. Also, avoid extremely cold liquids because they can cause cramps.)
• Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
• If possible, seek an air-conditioned environment. (If you don’t have air conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping mall or public library to cool off.)
• Wear lightweight clothing.
• If possible, remain indoors in the heat of the day.
• Do not engage in strenuous activities.
Would you like to help your at-risk elderly relatives or neighbors?
• Share the tips listed above with them.
• Take them to an air-conditioned location if there are transportation problems.
• Visit them at least twice a day and watch for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
• Make sure they have access to an electric fan whenever possible.