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Heat Related Illness

Office For The Aging
Mary Kaye Dolan, Director

 

 

Prevention and Treatment

 

It is important for senior citizens to know how to avoid heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. The following information, supplied by the University Health Service, University of Chicago Hospitals, should be of assistance. Dutchess County Office For The Aging's phone number is (845) 486-2555.  The toll free number is (866) 486-2555. The email address is ofa@dutchessny.gov.

Causes

Body heat is lost mainly through perspiration or sweating. Blood vessels near the skin's surface also adjust to help carry heat away. The body's ability to cool itself by sweating is lessened when the weather is humid. People who wear heavy clothing and do physically demanding work are at very high risk of becoming sick from the heat. People with heart disease are at risk due to the heart problem as well as from the medications they take for the condition. Those with respiratory problems are also at increased risk. Finally, anyone who is dehydrated is at risk because the capacity for tolerating heat is reduced.

Heat Cramps are painful muscle cramps which occur after profuse sweating. Usually heat cramps develop when a large amount of water is consumed to replace lost fluid. The excess fluid upsets the balance between salt and water in the body, which causes the cramps. The treatment is to remove heavy clothing, move into a cool environment, and drink a salt containing solution. Those on salt restricted diets should consult their physician prior to treating heat cramps with a salt-containing solution.

Heat Exhaustion

The symptoms of heat exhaustion include weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, muscle aches, and normal or slightly increased body temperature. The treatment is the same as for heat cramps. It is necessary to seek emergency medical attention if the symptoms do not resolve quickly, if there is a history of heart disease or other serious problem, or if any of the following occur: increased body temperature, confused mental state, vomiting, or inability to hold down fluids. Intravenous fluids and more vigorous cooling may be needed.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a life threatening illness in which the body temperature usually exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Heatstroke often occurs in healthy people engaging in strenuous physical activity on a hot and humid day. It can also occur in elderly or debilitated people who are exposed to heat for a long time. The ability of the body to regulate temperature is lost and this causes symptoms such as confusion or irritability, fainting, or panting. Dehydration occurs over a few days, leading to muscle breakdown and multiple organ failure. Emergency medical treatment is required. In the hospital vigorous cooling will be provided.

Prevention

  1. Dress in light colored, loose clothing. Light-colored clothes reflect light away from the body. Avoid direct sunlight.
     

  2. Avoid strenuous activity in hot weather, especially if it is humid.
     

  3. Take frequent breaks in a cool area.
     

  4. Drink plenty of fluids! Normal physical activity and exercise do not require additional salt to replenish losses from perspiration.
     

  5. Seek shelter in an air-conditioned home, office, library or shopping mall.


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Todd N. Tancredi,Director Todd N. Tancredi
Director
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