Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

50+: Live Better, Longer

Font Size
A
A
A

Surviving Summer Scorchers

Can't take the heat? Many people can't, and too often they end up in the hospital.
By
WebMD Feature

Hot enough for ya? It's an oven in here. Phew!

No one can resist commenting on the heat when the mercury rises above 100 degrees. It affects us profoundly -- in body and mind. In the worst cases, high heat and humidity can be deadly, too.

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

Caregiving Support Assessment

Things to Consider Select the number (on a scale of 1-3) that best describes your situation for each item or issue. You can total your scores if you wish to get a big picture of the situation. Lower scores indicate less manageable situations -- situations requiring additional support beyond the primary caregiver -- and higher scores indicate situations that may be more readily managed. For the care recipient and caregiver: _____ (1) There are no community support services available ___...

Read the Caregiving Support Assessment article > >

During a summer heat wave, emergency rooms fill up with people suffering from heat sickness. Many walk in complaining of cramps and exhaustion, and some are rushed in with heat stroke. "Heat stroke is the one we're most concerned about," says Mathew Walsh, MD, a doctor at Thomason Hospital in El Paso, Texas, and spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Heat stroke victims, he says, are often near death. "They're treated the same as heart attacks or strokes or trauma patients."

The cause of heat stroke is simple: being too hot for too long. If sweating isn't enough to cool you down, your body temperature rises rapidly, up to 106 degrees in as little as ten or 15 minutes. That's hot enough to literally cook your brain. You pass out, and if you're not treated immediately, you will suffer brain damage or die.

When heat stroke victims are wheeled into the ER, Walsh says, doctors try to cool them by stripping off all their clothes, blowing air over them with fans (it also helps that ERs are air conditioned), and bathing them with lukewarm water. You would think it would be best to douse them with ice-cold water, but water that's too cold causes shivering, which actually warms the body more.

In the most extreme cases, doctors will put the victim on a respirator and give a drug to paralyze the body so they can bring the temperature down quickly.

Elderly at Risk

The elderly are most vulnerable to heat stroke, for various reasons. Imagine a widow living on her Social Security stipend in a neighborhood that was perfectly nice when she moved there in 1946, but has since become seedy. Her doors and windows are shut and locked for fear of burglars, and she doesn't run her air conditioner in order to keep her electric bills low.

On a hot, humid day, she's already in trouble: These conditions are enough to bring on heat stroke. When the air is humid and stagnant, sweat cools the body less efficiently because it can't evaporate. What's more, older people sweat less than younger people.

But let's say this widow takes blood pressure medication, which blunts her thirst, so she doesn't drink enough water. Then, to make matters worse, she has a beer after her morning coffee and chain-smokes. All these things dehydrate her. So she sweats even less, her body temperature soars, and by the time the Meals-on-Wheels man comes to bring her dinner, she's dead.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

Senior man doing press ups in gym
Slideshow
reflection of couple kissing
Quiz
 
man reviewing building plans
Quiz
Women working out and walking with weights
Community
 
fast healthy snack ideas
Article
how healthy is your mouth
Tool
 
dog on couch
Tool
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
champagne toast
Slideshow
Youth listening to headphones
Slideshow
 
Man feeding woman
Slideshow
two senior women laughing
Article