It's Hot Out There!

Protect Yourself from Heat Dangers This Summer

As the song goes, summertime, and the livin' is easy... but not if it gets too hot!

Summer's long days and intense heat can put everyone at higher risk for hyperthermia - what the National Institute on Aging defines as an abnormally high body temperature caused by our bodies' inability to effectively deal with the heat of our environment.

But the risks can be even higher for people who have a more difficult time regulating their body temperatures. That includes seniors and people with medical conditions such as spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis.

Who's at Risk for Hyperthermia?

A July bulletin from the National Institute on Aging warns of five types of hyperthermia: heat stroke, heat syncope (dizziness after prolonged exposure to heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat fatigue.

"People can be at increased risk for these conditions depending on the combination of outside temperature, their general health and individual lifestyle," the bulletin says.

And heat-related illness is no small concern. The National Institute on Aging points out that heat stroke - when the body can no longer control its temperature, and body temperature goes above 104 degrees - is life threatening. Someone with heat stroke may have a strong and rapid pulse, may not sweat, may have dry and flushed skin, may appear confused or show other cognitive changes, and may stagger, faint or fall into a comma. People with heat stroke need immediate medical attention from emergency personnel.

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) says people with cervical and high thoracic spinal cord injuries may have trouble maintaining a normal body temperature and may notice they get hotter or colder depending on the temperature of their environments.

"The most important thing is to avoid extreme temperatures," RIC said in a July 2012 article about spinal cord injury complications. People with spinal cord injury who become overheated may develop a headache, dizziness or nausea, and their body temperatures may climb to 100 degrees or higher.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society notes that many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) "experience a temporary worsening of their symptoms when the weather is very hot or humid or they run a fever. Activities including sunbathing, getting overheated from exercise, or taking very hot showers or baths can have the same effect."

People with MS might notice their symptoms worsening even if their body temperature has elevated only slightly - perhaps as little as a quarter of one degree, the National MS Society points out.

Other conditions such as age-related skin changes that cause poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands, being obese or being substantially underweight, and heart, lung or kidney disease can also raise the risk of hyperthermia, the National Institute on Aging says. So can taking certain medications that cause reduced perspiration.

Stay Safe in the Summertime Heat

The National Institute on Aging suggests seniors, especially those who have chronic medical conditions take these summertime precautions:

-- Stay indoors - preferably in air conditioning or at least with a fan on and air circulating - on hot and humid days, and especially if an air pollution alert is also in effect.

-- Seniors without air conditioning should seek relief in air-conditioned facilities such as senior centers, malls, movie theatres and libraries.

-- During heat waves, many cities and counties set up temporary cooling centers in public facilities where people can go to beat the heat. Locate a cooling center near you by contacting your city hall, county offices or your power (electricity) provider.

If you think someone is showing symptoms of a heat-related illness, the National Institute on Aging recommends getting the person out of the heat and into a cool area. Call 911 if you suspect the person has heat stroke.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at