If the heat of summer feels especially oppressive this year, it’s with good reason. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Earth just saw its hottest June in recorded history, and temperatures in July have already hit notable extremes, with some heat indices in the Triangle area reaching above 110°F.
As the summer can be a difficult and uncomfortable season for seniors — especially for those who take certain medications and/or are affected by chronic illnesses — it is critically important to be aware of the heat, as well as the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Besides age, other risk factors for heat-related illness include obesity, sudden temperature changes, and high heat indices. Per the Mayo Clinic, high humidity (like what we experience almost daily in North Carolina) makes it difficult for sweat to evaporate, which in turn challenges the body as it tries to cool itself. This, too, can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
To protect yourself and those you love from the dangers of heat, here are some things you can do:
Make good use of the air conditioning.
Cool places like movie theaters, shops, and other indoor locations are ideal retreats from the heat. Be sure to take advantage of the air conditioned indoors as much as possible in order to regulate your body temperature.
Whenever possible, stay out of direct sunlight.
If it’s necessary to go outside — whether to walk the dog, to check the mail, or for some other purpose — do your best to stay in the shade and avoid the blazing sun. Venturing outdoors in the early morning or later in the evening is a good way to avoid direct sun.
This is a big one! Slake your body’s thirst with plenty of cool water, even if you don’t feel like drinking anything. If you prefer a little more flavor, you can dilute a 50/50 mix of natural fruit juices and water. Do your best to avoid alcoholic beverages, sports and energy drinks, and caffeinated options, like coffee and soda. As a diuretic, caffeine can lead to dehydration, which is exactly what you don’t want.
Dress for the weather.
Just as you wouldn’t wear a sleeveless shirt or shorts in Antarctica, you wouldn’t want to wear thick or layered clothing in the often unforgiving heat of a North Carolina summer. Instead of synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon, which are manufactured entirely from chemicals and known for retaining heat, opt for loose fitting, comfortable clothing made of materials like linen, cotton, and silk. If you must be outside, wear sunglasses and a hat — preferably with a wide brim — to protect your head, eyes, and face.
Protect yourself against sunburn.
If you plan to spend any time outdoors, be sure to generously apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (with an SPF of at least 15). Reapply every two hours, or more often if you’re sweating or swimming. Please note that while clothing can hinder some UV radiation from the sun, your skin can still burn through your clothes, so it’s important to be mindful and consistent with how you apply your sunscreen.
Don’t forget your pets!
Never, ever leave your pets in a parked car — not for any amount of time. According to The Humane Society of the United States, even with the windows slightly open, the temperature inside a car can reach 120°F on an 85°F day. A pet’s exposure to that kind of heat can cause irreversible organ damage or worse. Additionally, when you take your dog for a walk, stay in grassy areas and avoid pavement. After all, if the air is hot, the asphalt is hotter.
The Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that on an 87°F day, the asphalt can reach 143°F — that’s hotter than it takes to fry an egg in five minutes. Imagine how much damage that kind of heat exposure can do to a poor pup’s paw pads! In fact, at 125°F, it only takes 60 seconds for skin destruction to occur. Please be just as mindful of your animals’ comfort and needs as you are of your own — they have no one else to speak or act for them. They, too, can suffer from heat-related illness.
Get acclimated to the climate.
Not from the area? Unfortunately, you are especially susceptible to heat-related illness. For those who are not used to hot weather, it can take several weeks for the body to acclimate to the new and unfamiliar climate. If this applies to you, limit the time you spend working or exercising in the heat until your body has better adjusted to it.
Adjust your living spaces accordingly.
Keep your home cool and comfortable for you and your loved ones (pets included!). Avoid using your oven, turn off all unnecessary electrical appliances (they tend to generate a lot of heat), and keep your electric lights off or dim. Use fans as necessary. Ideally, your home will provide you and your family with an oasis of comfort from the oppressive heat outside.
Indeed, the summer is a beautiful time of year and creates many opportunities for fun and enjoyment. As with anything else, though, it is not without its risks, and exposure to heat and direct sunlight is a big one.
Signs of heat-related illness may include headache, confusion, nausea, rapid breathing, muscle cramps, heavy sweating, fatigue, and weakness or fainting. If you find yourself suffering from any of these symptoms, it is critical that you stop all activity, move to a cooler place, and rest. Drink cool water or a sports drink to replenish some of the fluids you’ve lost, and contact your doctor if any of your symptoms worsen or don’t improve over time.
—Lauren Young, Marketing Specialist