Groups at risk

Elderly people are particularly at risk for heat-related illness because their bodies will not adapt to extreme temperature changes as well as young persons. Moreover, elderly individuals are likely to have chronic diseases and take medication which may interfere with the body’s temperature regulation. Infants and children are at risk for heat-related illness too, and parents must watch them frequently to note whether they are able to tolerate the hot weather.

Patients with acute or chronic medical conditions will be prone to heat-related illness because their medical problems will impair the body’s ability to maintain a normal temperature in very hot weather. In other words, the individual’s protective mechanisms against hyperthermia, such as sweating, will not be sufficient to cool the body. Those medical conditions include obesity, circulatory problems, coronary heart disease, fever, dehydration, mental illness, sunburn, and alcohol use.

 

Psychiatric patients will have a predisposition to heat-related illness or hyperthermia because some of the psychotropic medication which they take affects the body’s temperature regulation. Finally, a particularly risky situation exists in regions of the world where heat waves occur and there is no rain for several days or weeks.

Prevention

During a heat wave, members of the community should remain in touch several times daily with people who are at risk for hyperthermia. This especially includes elderly people and patients with mental illness. Individuals who do not have an air conditioner should consider visiting the public library, shopping mall, and shelters which public health agencies provide for relief from the high temperatures.

Regardless of a person’s physical activity or whether he or she is thirsty, it is essential that everyone drink additional nonalcoholic cool fluids during extremely hot weather. Athletes must consume three or four glasses of water every hour if they are physically active or compete during very hot weather. Very cold drinks may cause stomach cramps, and one should avoid them.

Sports drinks and salt tablets may be helpful approaches to replace electrolyte loss which results from excessive sweating, but patients who must adhere to a low sodium diet should consult their physician before they use either of these measures. For electrolyte supplement options visit this site.  In extremely hot weather it is best to avoid hot foods and heavy meals. For pets, owners should leave plenty of fresh water in a shaded area.

Caregivers should never leave children alone in automobiles regardless of whether the windows are open. The temperature in vehicles quickly rises, and the child will not be able to tolerate the extreme heat for very long. Several childhood deaths have occurred from this.

People should listen to the radio or watch television during a heat wave to obtain news alerts about the situation. The recommendation is to limit outdoor activities to morning or evening, and if one becomes lightheaded, faint, weak, confused, short of breath, or experiences palpitations or fluttering of the heart, then he or she should sit down and rest in the shade and promptly obtain medical services.

For those who work in conditions of high temperature, the buddy system is useful, and workers should monitor each other and look for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. If heat-related illness does occur, its medical management will depend upon the severity of the condition.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

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