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How to stay safe on hot summer days

With these last few days being scorching hot across Australia and unusually hot and humid here in Perth I thought it would be good to put together a little reminder on the health risks that higher temperatures can bring. People with chronic medical conditions and older adults are particularly susceptible to hyperthermia and other heat-related illnesses. It is important to know the signs and know the risks to avoid problems. The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, lists the below as common heat-related illnesses

  • Heat fatigue
  • Heat syncope (feeling dizzy after prolonged exposure to the heat)
  • Heat cramps
  • Heat exhaustion and heat stroke (these are forms of hyperthermia, which is caused by a failure of the body’s heat-regulating mechanisms to deal with a hot environment)

In general, the risk of heat-related problems can be increased by a combination of lifestyle, high temperatures and general health factors.

Some of the Lifestyle factors are

  • not drinking enough fluids
  • Not having access to air conditioning at home
  • lack of mobility and access to transportation
  • Not dressing appropriately for the weather e.g. overdressing
  • Visiting overcrowded places
  • Not knowing how to respond to hot climatic conditions.

When we get these really hot and humid days, it is advisable for older people, particularly those suffering from chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, to try and avoid the outdoors, unless they are well shaded and ventilated. It is recommended to stay indoors and in cooler air-conditioning spaces. If you do not have to air-condition at home, it is best to go and visit family or friends that have to air-condition or plan a trip to a shopping centre, cinema or library. People without air conditioners should go to places that do have air conditioning, such as senior centres, shopping malls, movie theatres and libraries.

Most people will only associate hyperthermia with the cold. However, heat can be just as common of a cause. Below is a list of things that can increase the risk.

  • Dehydration
  • Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat production
  • Medication – unfortunately, there is not much to do about this one, it is important, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a doctor
  • Reduced sweating – this can be caused by some drugs e.g. diuretics, sedatives, tranquillizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart, lung and kidney diseases
  • Not being in a healthy weight range (Being substantially overweight or underweight)
  • Consumption of alcohol

One of the most common forms of heat inflicted hyperthermia is a heat stroke. A heat stroke can be life-threatening and occurs when the body is unable to control its temperature due to being overwhelmed by heat. Symptoms of a heat stroke include

  • Significant increase in body temperature
  • Mental status changes such as confusion or combativeness
  • Dry flushed skin
  • Lack of sweating
  • Rapid pulse
  • Feeling faint
  • Staggering
  • Coma

If you feel like you may be experiencing a heatstroke or see someone that might be it is imperative to seek immediate emergency medical attention, especially if the person is an older adult. The best practice is to call 911 immediately, get the person out of the heat, preferably into a cool air-conditioned space or at least some shade and urge them to lie down. Try to cool down their blood by applying a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, armpits, neck and groin. If the person is conscious and capable of swallowing assist them in drinking some fluids, however, ensure you avoid alcohol and caffeinated soft drinks. Depending on the condition of the person, try and encourage them to have a cool shower, bath or simply sponge off, if it is safe to do so.

I hope you all enjoy the rest of our beautiful Australian summer in a safe way!


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