Heat-related maladies and how to avoid them

July 25, 2018

Q. I'm 74 and I don't seem to be able to endure hot weather the way I used to when I was younger. Is this a common experience as we age?

Yes. I don't play golf when it's over 90 degrees anymore because it makes me a bit woozy even if I drink a lot of water and seek out the shade. My reaction to heat is caused by blood pressure drugs that I take, my advanced age, and some extra pounds I'm struggling to lose.

Too much heat can make you sick. All of the heat-related conditions come under the heading of hyperthermia, which means “high heat.”

The following are some of the maladies caused by excessive heat:

Heat stroke – Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. This is an emergency condition. You must seek medical assistance immediately. Many victims of heat stroke die from it. Most are over 50 years old.

In 1980, a heat wave in the United States killed almost 1,700 people. In 2003, tens of thousands of people died of the heat in Europe.

The symptoms of heat stroke are a body temperature above 103°F; red, hot, dry skin with no sign of sweat; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea and exhaustion.

Exhaustion – If you become exhausted on a hot day, your body is telling you it can't maintain its cool. Symptoms of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating, thirst, dizziness, weakness, lack of coordination and nausea. Resting in a cool place, drinking plenty of fluids, and getting medical care should help.

Cramps – Heat can make the muscles in your arms, legs and abdomen tighten. This can be very painful. Cramps can be caused by physical exertion on a hot day. Go somewhere cool, rest, and drink a lot of water.

Edema – Your ankles and feet can become swollen when it's hot. To combat heat edema, raise your legs onto a footstool. If this doesn't give you immediate relief, see your doctor.

Syncope – Like me, you could become dizzy when you are active in the heat. Those of us who take a beta blocker and diuretics for high blood pressure are especially prone to heat syncope. Raise your legs and rest somewhere cool.

People older than 65 are more likely to suffer from heat problems than younger people. Seniors don't adjust as well as they did to sudden temperature changes. They may have a medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat. And, they are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body's ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration.

You can prevent heat problems by following these tips: drink cool (non-alcoholic) beverages, rest, don't exert yourself outdoors, get into a cool shower or pool, try to find an air-conditioned environment, and wear lightweight clothes.

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