I was saddened the other day to read of the heat stroke death of 82-year old female twins in their hot, airless home in Texas. This got me thinking about heat stroke...how easy it is to fall victim to it, and how easy it is to prevent it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that during 1999--2003, a total of 3,442 deaths resulting from exposure to extreme heat were reported (annual mean: 688). These deaths could have been prevented with a few simple precautions and a lot of awareness.
Heatstroke is the most serious of heat-related problems. It is defined as an abnormally high body temperature caused by the body's inability to dissipate heat. When you overexert yourself in the hot summer sun, you can put yourself at risk. The first indication that you might be in trouble is hard for you to recognize but often the symptoms are clear to the people around you. The main sign is your body temperature rises to 104F (40C), then your personality changes, you become confused and could become dizzy and faint. Other indications that you have heat stroke are:
Your heart beats rapidly
Your breathing is rapid and shallow - you pant
Your blood pressure changes - it can either be elevated or lowered
You no longer sweat
You show signs of irritability and confusion
You get a headache and feel nauseous
You feel dizzy, lightheaded and may faint (this is often the first sign in older adults)
When you see anyone exhibiting any of the above symptoms, you must immediately do the following:
Move the person out of the sun and into the shade or air-conditioning
Call for emergency medical assistance
Cover the person with damp sheets or spray with cool water
Fan the person with a newspaper, hair dryer set on cool, or an electric fan
If the person is able, give them a drink of cool water
Hats...Trees...Umbrellas...Or The Morning Sun!
The best defense against getting heat stroke is to prevent it, and here's how you can do it. Avoid vigorous physical activities in hot and humid weather. But, if you do have to work or play in the heat and sun, take frequent rests in the shade or air-conditioning. Drink plenty of fluids like water and sports drinks, but not alcohol or caffeine, as at these can dehydrate you. Wear a hat and loose, light colored clothes.
In the hot summer months, I take my daily exercise early in the morning before the sun becomes overpowering. I always carry a water bottle, and drink frequently from it, and wear a hat. If you do the same, you should never be in a position to succumb to heat stroke.
Take care, stay healthy and enjoy these wonderful long warm days of summer.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Institute For Healthy Aging