Surviving the heat
There are a range of reasons people’s bodies don’t cope well with the heat. Some medications, such as blood pressure medication, antidepressants, antihistamines and more can interfere with a person’s ability to manage hotter weather. As we get older we don’t perspire as much, so our bodies have more difficulty cooling themselves. Those with a cognitive disability may not ‘feel’ the heat, or may not be able to communicate their discomfort.
Whatever the reason, if you or a person you are caring for are at an increased risk from the heat of summer, there are a number of steps you can take to stay cool. It is important to know the signs of heat-related distress, and how to avoid it, as in extreme cases becoming overheated can be life-threatening.
Signs of heat-related distress:
- Headache, nausea and fatigue are all signs of heat stress
- Cool, moist skin; a weakened pulse and feeling faint are all signs of heat fatigue
- Thirst, giddiness, weakness, lack of coordination, nausea, profuse sweating, cold and clammy skin, possible raised pulse, possible contracted pupils and possible vomiting are all signs that the body is getting too hot, which is known as heat exhaustion
- If not treated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke is life-threatening and immediate medical attention is required. Symptoms can include confusion, combativeness, bizarre behaviour, faintness, staggering, rapid pulse, dry hot and flushed skin, lack of sweating, possible fast, shallow breathing and possible dilated pupils. Later stages can include delirium, seizures and coma.
Getting too hot can be dangerous, especially when the person has trouble communicating their discomfort, so it’s important to know the signs ahead of time, and to take steps to remain cool during hot weather.
Ways to stay cool in the heat:
- Stay hydrated. Sip on cool drinks often. Water is best, but if you prefer fruit juice then water it down to improve hydration. Avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine or excess sugar.
- Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, and if you have to go out cover up with loose, cool clothing and a hat. Natural fibers such as cotton will keep you cooler than polyester.
- Take a cool shower or bath, or splash yourself with cool water.
- Identify the coolest room you have access to ahead of time, so you know where to go in the heat.
- Avoid turning on the oven or stove, as this will introduce heat into the house. Instead, opt for a cool, fresh meal, such as a protein-rich salad.
- Check in with others. If you know someone who lives alone, or you yourself live alone, check in with others throughout heatwaves, to ensure everyone is staying safe and keeping cool.
Other things to consider include checking medications to ensure they are being stored at a safe temperature, and putting them into a cooler room or even the fridge if it’s getting too hot inside the house. If you are ever concerned about how you will cope with the heat, or whether a medication will affect how your body responds to the heat you should have a chat with a medical professional, as they can help you make a plan. If you are worried that someone may be suffering from heat-related distress, it is important to seek medical attention urgently, as heat-related distress can become life-threatening if not treated.