Learn How to Recognize Heat Illness
You may be used to hot weather, but too much heat is not safe for anyone. It’s even riskier if you’re older or have health problems. Hyperthermia — when the body’s internal temperature is too high — can show up in many different ways. The National Institute on Aging shares these tips for recognizing the signs of heat illness and treating them quickly, plus what you can do to lower your risk of getting heat illnesses in the first place.
Heat syncope is a sudden dizziness that can happen when you are active in hot weather. If you take a heart medication called a beta blocker or are not used to hot weather, you are even more likely to feel faint.
How to treat it: Rest in a cool place, put your legs up and drink water to make the dizzy feeling go away.
Heat cramps are the painful tightening of muscles in your stomach, arms or legs. Cramps can result from hard work or exercise. Though your body temperature and pulse usually stay normal during heat cramps, your skin may feel moist and cool.
How to treat it: Find a way to cool your body down. Rest in the shade or in a cool building. Drink plenty of fluids, but not those with alcohol or caffeine.
Heat edema is a swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot.
How to treat it: Put your legs up to help reduce swelling. If that doesn’t work fairly quickly, call your doctor.
Heat exhaustion is a warning that your body can no longer keep itself cool. You might feel thirsty, dizzy, weak, uncoordinated and nauseated. You may sweat a lot. Your body temperature may stay normal, but your skin may feel cold and clammy. Some people with heat exhaustion have a rapid pulse.
How to treat it: Rest in a cool place and get plenty of fluids. If you don’t feel better soon, get medical care. Be careful — heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.
Heat stroke — a medical emergency
If you have heat stroke, someone should call 911 immediately. Signs of heat stroke are:
- Fainting (possibly the first sign) or becoming unconscious
- A change in behavior — confusion, agitation, staggering, being grouchy or acting strangely
- Body temperature over 104°F (40°C)
- Dry, flushed skin and a strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse
- Not sweating even if it is hot
How to lower your risk for heat-related illness
- Drink plenty of liquids, such as water or fruit or vegetable juices. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. If your doctor has told you to limit your liquids, ask what you should do when it is very hot.
- Keep your house as cool as possible. Limit your use of the oven. Keep your shades, blinds or curtains closed during the hottest part of the day. Open your windows at night.
- If you need help getting to a cool place, ask a friend or relative. Coronavirus-related closures may limit where you can go. Some religious groups, senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging can help. Don’t stand outside in the heat waiting for a bus.
- Dress for the weather. Some people find natural fabrics, such as cotton, to be cooler than synthetic fibers.
- Don’t try to exercise or do a lot of activities outdoors when it’s hot.