Most of us look forward to the summer but there are times when the heat can be extreme and dangerous.
Heat is an environmental and occupational hazard. The prevention of deaths in the community caused by extreme high temperatures (heat waves) is a public health concern.
Hyperthermia is the general name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses. Common forms of hyperthermia are heat exhaustion, heat stress and heat stroke. Heat stroke is especially dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.
The older we get the more sensitive we become to temperature changes. Elderly people are far more prone than younger people to heat stress, which includes a series of conditions where the body is overheating.
Symptoms can range from profuse sweating to dizziness, cessation of sweating, confusion, inability to concentrate and collapsing. Certain behaviours also put people at greater risk: drinking alcohol, taking part in strenuous outdoor physical activities in hot weather, and taking medications that impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
Very often, existing medical conditions make elderly people susceptible to further complications when there is an increase in ambient temperature. For example, a person using diuretics experiences water loss and dehydration will accelerate when the outside temperature increases.
As well as health risks to consider there are also environmental risks. Not every home has fans or air conditioners but people can take the following steps to reduce heat discomfort: create cross-ventilation by opening windows on two sides of the building; cover windows when they are exposed to direct sunlight; and keep curtains, shades, or blinds drawn during the hottest part of the day.
There are also lifestyle risks such as overdressing. Older people in particular may dress appropriately in hot weather without realising as they tend not to feel the heat as strong as it is. Natural fabrics such as cotton are best.
People should avoid visiting overcrowded places. Trips should be scheduled during non-rush hour times and participation in special events should be carefully planned.
If you have identified someone who is suffering from hyperthermia its best to:
- Get the victim out of the sun and into a cool place - preferably one that is air-conditioned.
- Offer fluids but avoid alcohol and caffeine. Water and fruit and vegetable juices are best.
- Encourage the individual to shower or bathe, or sponge with cool water.
- Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place.
Lets make sure everyone enjoys summer safely. Winter will arrive all too soon.