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Staying cool is the best way to stay out of the hospital in summer's heat

A short period in extreme sun and heat can be dangerous for older people. • Most people realize that.

But a crisis situation can also come on slowly — and perhaps without the person even knowing it — if the core body temperature rises gradually over several days during a heat wave.

If you don't have air-conditioning, you must remember to take action and call for help at the first signs of distress.

Florida has one of the most oppressively hot and humid climates in the United States.

In a 2009 paper about heat-related mortality in the United States, published in the journal Natural Hazards, Scott C. Sheridan, a geography professor at Kent State University, found that the frequency of "moist tropical" days reached 21.8 during the summer in South Florida — the highest among all regions studied.

So while elderly may complain more about feeling cold, they're far more threatened by heat.

As we get older, we perspire less, leaving the body less capable of regulating its own temperature.

Older people also become less responsive to thirst, making them vulnerable to dehydration, a major factor in heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

High temperatures combined with high humidity can raise the core body temperature of older people very rapidly, producing dizziness, nausea, disorientation and even delirium, convulsions and coma.

And death.

During the long heat wave in Chicago during July, 1995, 371 of the 522 deaths reported involved people 65 or older, most of them alone at the time in houses and apartments cooled only by fans, if that.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable with a few common-sense precautions.

Tom Valeo writes frequently about health matters. He can be reached at tom.valeo@gmail.com.

Prevent overheating

• Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink fluids. You should be downing 16 to 32 ounces every hour in high heat and humidity.

• If you're sweating heavily, drink sports drinks to replace lost salt and minerals.

• Wear light, loose-fitting clothing and a wide-brimmed hat.

• If possible, cool down periodically in air-conditioning. Even short periods in cool air can help your body maintain a normal temperature when you go back into the heat.

• Avoid hot foods and heavy meals, which add heat to your body.

Be aware of the most common signs of heat exhaustion, the precursor to heatstroke. These include heavy sweating, pale skin, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea and fainting. A person with heat exhaustion remains coherent, and the symptoms are readily reversed by getting into cool air or cool water, and drinking fluids, but heat exhaustion can quickly turn into heatstroke.

Symptoms of heatstroke

• Hot, dry skin with little or no sweating

• Rapid pulse

• Headache

• Dizziness

• Nausea

• Confusion

• Fainting

• A body temperature of 103 or higher

If you see symptoms, cool the person down any way you can and call 911.

Staying cool is the best way to stay out of the hospital in summer's heat 07/24/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 5:55pm]
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