Keeping Our Elders Cool in Houston Heat
Houston is hot! Like really, really hot. And while this is no surprise and nothing new for Houstonians, that doesn’t mean it's not an issue. Staying hydrated and cool is important for everyone and especially so for our elders. Dehydration and heat exhaustion go hand in hand and one can easily exacerbate the other, leading to a dire event in a manner of minutes. That’s why it’s important to both know the signs and symptoms, and understand how we can prevent them. There are other heat complications besides dehydration and heat exhaustion that all fall under the term hyperthermia, not to be confused with hypothermia. Hyperthermia is when the body becomes too hot and the brain presses the heart and other bodily systems to work overtime to try and cool the body down. Below are a few conditions and their signs and symptoms to be on the lookout these hot summer days:
Dehydration is just as it sounds, it’s when the body simply isn’t as hydrated enough for what we are demanding of it. When the body cannot produce enough sweat to cool the body, the body loses the ability to regulate its temperature and dramatically increases the risk of developing a heat illness.
Heat edema is swelling in the ankles and feet when your body temperature gets too high. To help reduce the swelling, find a cool spot and try taking your shoes off. Elevate your feet and rest for a while.
Heat syncope is a rapid onset of dizziness that occurs when you’re being active outside in hot weather. Heart medications, such as beta blockers, are also known to increase the likelihood of feeling faint in hot weather. If at any point you feel dizzy or uneasy, stop all outdoor activity and find a cool, shady place to rest in. Put your feet up and be sure to hydrate with water!
Heat cramps are tightening of muscles in your arms, legs, or even your back and stomach. These cramps are the result of dehydration and excess loss of nutrients from sweating. Cramps usually accompany someone who is heavily perspiring and doing physical work. To help prevent and treat heat cramps, be sure to hydrate with plenty of water or other fluids. But stay away from sugary, alcoholic, or caffeinated drinks before and during your outdoor activities as these will surely exacerbate the condition.
Heat exhaustion is a warning signal that your body is no longer able to keep itself cool and is dramatically overheating. As the body overheats, many other systems start to fail and you may feel overly thirsty, weak, dizzy, nauseous, and even lose your balance. Though you may be sweating and your temperature may feel normal, your skin may feel cold and clammy to the touch. Increased heart rate is sure to follow as the brain is ordering your heart to pick up the pace and work double time. Heat exhaustion has to be taken seriously as ignoring it can lead to a heat stroke.
Staying cool through the hot Houston summers is hard, but not unmanageable.
Drink plenty of water and avoid sugary, alcoholic, or caffeinated drinks before or during outside activities
Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes that are breathable and help keep you cool
Cover your skin! Sunhats, sun umbrellas, sunscreen are a must when venturing out for longer than a few minutes
Try to limit any outside physical activity when the heat index is high
Bring along cooling and hydrating tools such as cooling towels, water spritzers, and cooling fans.