Sacramento, Calif. – Soaring temperatures can be extremely dangerous, particularly for seniors or for anyone who works or exercises outdoors. UC Davis physicians offer several suggestions to prevent heat stroke and severe dehydration, which can lead to hospitalization and even death on scorching summer days.
Signs of heat illnesses include muscle cramps due to salt depletion, and heat exhaustion, which is marked by weakness, nausea, dizziness and cool and clammy skin. When heat exhaustion is not relieved, it can lead to heat stroke, with extremely dangerous consequences, including confusion, agitation and blurry or double vision.
Seniors, in particular, are at risk for heat-related emergencies, says Calvin Hirsch, a geriatrics specialist with UC Davis Health System.
“No one is comfortable when the temperature soars,” said Hirsch, professor of internal medicine, “but seniors account for a disproportionate number of heat-related hospitalizations and deaths.”
Poor blood circulation and use of medications like diuretics that cause water loss and diminished perception of overheating, make many seniors more vulnerable to heat-related crises, Hirsch said. Additionally, many seniors are less inclined to keep windows open because of security concerns and may not have easy access to cooler environments when needed.
If there is no air conditioner or the power has gone out, Hirsch suggests seniors spend a few hours in an air-conditioned public place, such as a library, shopping mall or movie theater.
Additional precautions to help avoid heat-related illnesses:
- Stay in the coolest place as much as possible, and avoid too much activity.
- Use the air conditioner, or try to spend at least a few hours in an air-conditioned place.
- Eat lightly and drink plenty of fluids. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks. Don’t take salt tablets unless advised to do so by a doctor.
- Use hand-held, battery-operated fans and misters.
- Rub wet washcloths, packs of frozen food or ice cubes over your wrists, face and back of neck.
- Seek medical help if cooling-off measures are not working. Heat stroke can be fatal if not recognized and treated in time.
Exercising in extreme heat also poses health threats, says Jeff Tanji, a sports medicine specialist at UC Davis Health System.
“Exercise and activity are crucial to help you stay healthy, but it’s important to be careful in the summer to avoid heat stroke, dehydration and other consequences of overexertion,” he said. “Luckily, a little common sense goes a long way.”
Tanji suggests exercising during the cooler morning and evening hours. Out-of-town visitors unaccustomed to Sacramento-area temperatures should take it easy the first few days. Even professional athletes adjust routines during the first several days of a change in climate, he adds.
Youngters, in particular, should take regular timeouts and water breaks during exercise – a minimum of 10 minutes for every hour of exercise. Children, older people and those who are less fit need additional time to rest.
Before starting exercise, Tanji urges everyone to have a big glass of a cool drink; plain water is best, but fruit juices and Gatorade-type sports drinks also work well. Alcohol and caffeine contribute to dehydration and should be avoided.