Stay Out of the Danger Zone
With record breaking temperatures heating up the nation, there's no question that summer is here. But what happens when the heat goes beyond uncomfortable and becomes an actual danger to your health? The scary truth is that extreme heat can cause exhaustion, illness, heat stroke, and even death—in fact, heat waves are the most lethal type of weather, especially to people over the age of 65. Luckily there are plenty of precautions you can take to stay cool and safe during the summer months, so read on to educate yourself and your loved ones.
- Stay hydrated: Increase the amount of water you drink during heat waves, even if your physical activity does not increase. Do not wait until you feel thirsty to drink, and most importantly, drink the right kinds of fluids. Avoid alcoholic and sugary drinks, as this can actually cause your body to lose more fluid. Stick to water that is cool (but not very cold as this can cause stomach cramps), as well as sports drinks to help replace the salt and minerals lost from sweating. If you are on a low-salt diet or taking water pills, consult your doctor for further guidance.
- Keep cool indoors: The best way to avoid the heat is to stay out of it! If your home has air conditioning, that is the safest place to be during heat waves. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to public places such as the shopping mall or library during peak heat hours. Or, call your local health department to see if there are heat-relief shelters in your area. While fans provide some comfort, they will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool bath, staying in the coolest area of the home, and limiting use of the stove or oven will help. Sometimes a breezy, shady spot outdoors can even be cooler than a home without air conditioning during the day.
- Take it easy: Any exertion in extreme heat can put your health at risk, so move slowly to allow your body to adjust. Keep outdoor activity to an absolute minimum, especially during the middle of the day. If at any point you feel your heart start to pound, feel dizzy, weak, or experience difficulty in breathing, seek refuge in the air conditioning if possible, or at least relax in the shade.
- Don't stay in the car: If you are out with friends or family, never stay in the car while they run in a store, even if it's just for a few minutes. Even with the windows cracked, car temperatures can rise as high as 20 extra degrees in just minutes.
- Check in often: If you are over 65 or know someone who is over 65, work out a check in system during heat waves. Call each other a couple times throughout the day to make sure you both are staying cool in a safe environment.
- Dress appropriately: When at home, wear as little clothing as possible. If you must go outdoors, wear clothing that is lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting to encourage as much ventilation as possible. Also wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and protect your skin with sunscreen. This last part is important because besides causing skin cancer, sunburn can limit your body's ability to cool itself and cause a loss of body fluids.