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Avoiding summer health issues

While many of us welcome warm summer days when temperatures climb high, heat can contribute to serious health risks such as heat exhaustion, heatstroke and dehydration. Older adults are at higher risk. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), most people who die of heat-related illnesses are ages 50 or older.

Understanding the risks, knowing the symptoms to take seriously and taking some preventive measures can help you get through summer’s hottest stretches—safely.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses the ability to control its temperature. According to the NIA, older adults who live without fans or air conditioning and those with chronic health conditions are most at risk. Heatstroke can be life-threatening. Seek medical help right away if you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone else:

  • fainting or dizziness
  • extremely high body temperature
  • change in behavior such as confusion, grouchiness or just acting strangely red, hot and dry skin
  • rapid, strong pulse or slow, weak pulse
  • rapid breathing
  • nausea or vomiting

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a milder heat-related illness. While it’s not as dangerous as heatstroke, you should take the symptoms as a warning to get someplace cool and drink fluids. With heat exhaustion, you may:

feel weak, tired, nauseated or dizzy

  • sweat heavily and have clammy skin
  • be thirsty
  • have a headache
  • have a rapid pulse

Dehydration

On hot days, your body produces more sweat to cool itself down. As a result, the body flushes out fluids more quickly. If you don’t replenish them, you may become dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration include excessive thirst, dry mouth, headache, little or no urine, darker urine, fatigue and lightheadedness.

Keep your cool

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following tips to prevent heat-related illness:

  • Sip on cool, nonalcoholic beverages throughout the day. (If your doctor limits your fluid intake, consult with him or her on hydration needs for hot days.)
  • Take it easy. Avoid strenuous activity, and rest as needed.
  • Cool down with a shower, bath or sponge bath.
  • Seek the comfort of air conditioning. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, consider going to an air-conditioned mall, library or senior center.
  • Wear clothing that’s loose fitting and lightweight.
  • Stay inside during the hottest part of the day—10 a.m. to 4 p.m.