While everyone might be put off by hot temperatures, it is seniors who are most at risk for heat-related health issues. A study by the University of Chicago Medical Center found that 40 percent of heat-related deaths in the US were in people 65 or older. There are several different reasons for this, including a decreased ability to notice changes in body temperature. Seniors can be slow to react to changes in heat, meaning that they don’t start the sweating and cooling down process until their internal temperature has already increased. Additionally, sweat glands may be less efficient with age, slowing down the release of heat from the body. Other factors that contribute to a senior’s vulnerability to heat include obesity, many different health problems, and even certain medications.
Therefore, it is extremely important to watch for signs of heat stroke and exhaustion in older adults.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke occurs when is unable to control its body temperature, causing it to rise rapidly. The body is then unable to sweat and cool itself down. Body temperatures can reach up to 106 degrees in as little as 10 minutes! If not treated, death or permanent disability are real threats. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Red, hot, and dry skin with no sweating
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
- Cool, moist skin
What is heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is not as severe as heat stroke, but is still a serious problem. It occurs over a period of several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate hydration. If not treated, it can lead to heat stroke. Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle cramps
- Dark urine
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Cool, moist skin
- Fast and shallow breathing
How to prevent heat problems
Lucky, there are many ways to help prevent heat stroke and exhaustion in older adults. they include:
- Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages to keep you hydrated (water is best)
- Get plenty of rest
- Take a cool shower or bath to lower your temperature
- Stay in an air-conditioned environment
- Wear lightweight clothing that allows your skin to breathe
- Remain indoors during the hottest part of the day
- Avoid engaging in strenuous activities outside
- Stay in shade if you must go outside
If you see someone you think is suffering from heat stroke or exhaustion, the first thing you should do is get them out of the heat. Try and cool them down as fast as possible by immersing them in a tub of cool water or spraying them with a hose. Call for medical assistance as soon as you can, as they will need to be checked out and re-hydrated quickly.
Everyone knows the dangers of sunburn. However, did you know that for people taking certain medications, there is an entirely different sun disorder to worry about? Photosensitivity is an inflammation of the skin caused by the combination of sunlight and certain medications. While photosensitivity might look like sunburn, it’s actually quite different. There are two types of photosensitivity – phototoxic and photoallergic.
In a phototoxic reaction, the drug absorbs UV light and then releases it into the skin, causing cell damage. This causes a rash on sun-exposed skin, which typically clears up after the drug is out of your system. In a photoallergic reaction, UV light actually alters the structure of the drug, which makes your body think the drug is an invading force. Therefore, it produces antibodies against it, which cause inflammation of the skin in both sun-exposed and non-sun-exposed areas.
One additional factor to consider when taking certain medications is sensitivity to heat. Certain medications affect your body’s ability to regulate its temperature, meaning that you could quickly become overheated and suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke. In severe cases, this can lead to organ failure or death.
Luckily, just because you are taking medications that make you sensitive to the sun does not mean you have to stay sequestered. Simply using plenty of sunscreen, frequenting shady areas, and avoiding outdoor activity during the hottest parts of the day can keep you safe and sound.
Here is a list of common medications that cause problems in the sun. If you are taking one of these, ask your home health nurse for more information about how to stay safe. He or she can better explain the side effects of sun sensitivity as well as come up with a plan to keep you protected.
|Allergy drugs (loratadine, promethazine)
||Antibiotics (quinilones, tetracyclines, sulfonamides)
||Sunscreens (para-aminobenzoic acid, oxybenzone, cyclohexanol, benzophenones, salicylates, cinnamate)
|Muscle spasm drugs (atropine, scopolamine)
||Anti-microbials (chlorhexidine, hexachlorophene, dapsone)
||Malaria medications (quinine, chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine)
|Mental illness drugs (thioridazine, chlorpromazine, prochlorperazine)
||Cancer chemotherapy drugs (5-fluorouracil, vinblastine, dacarbazine)
||Cancer chemotherapy drugs (5-fluorouracil)
|Major tranquilizers (phenothiazines, butyrophenones, thioxanthenes)
||Cardiac drugs (amiodarone, nifedipine, quinidine, diltiazem)
||Fragrances (musk, 6-methylcoumarine)
|High blood pressure drugs (mecamylamine )
||Diuretics (furosemide, thiazides)
|High blood pressure drugs (beta blockers)
||Diabetic drugs (sulfonylureas)
|Migraine drugs (triptanes)
||Painkillers (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
|Ephedrine/pseudoephedrine (OTC decongestant, Sudafed)
||Skin medications (photodynamic therapy for skin cancer)
||Acne medications (isotretinoin, acitretin)
|Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drugs (amphetamines)
||Psychiatric drugs (phenothiazines, tricyclic)
All of us want to enjoy the beautiful, hot sun during the summer months in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the summer sunshine, UV rays and heat also can bring a few dangers, especially for seniors, including sunburn, eye damage, dehydration, heat exhaustion and more.
With some precautionary steps and healthy senior personal care, everyone can enjoy the blue skies and warm weather. The following are some TIPS on how to protect your skin from the sun to avoid skin cancer, protect your eyes, and stay healthy on those days spent outdoors. Your skin is a precious organ that needs tender loving care that only you can provide!
- Use a sunscreen that has at least 15 or higher SPF (sun protection factor). For elderly with fragile, sensitive or pale skin, 30 SPF is recommended.
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes prior to going into the sun if possible. Apply sunscreen to all of the skin that will be exposed. Re-apply sunscreen at least every 2 hours. Apply immediately after swimming or exercise. You should use sunscreen on any sunny day, even in fall and winter.
- Stay out of the midday sun if possible. Find shade between 10 AM and 4PM. Use the shadow rule: A shadow that is longer than you means UV (ultraviolet) exposure is low; a shadow that is shorter than you means that the UV exposure is high. UV rays are the dangerous ones that cause sun burn and skin cancer.
- Wear a hat with wide 4 inch brims that cover your neck, ears, eyes and scalp.
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses with UVA and UVB ray protection. Glasses reduce the cumulative effect of damage linked to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
- Use lip-balm or cream that has an SPF of 15 or higher to protect your lips from getting chaffed, sunburned or developing cold sores.
- Turn on your air conditioning: Air conditioning is important when it is hot and humid outside. During a heat wave, if you don’t have central air or a room air conditioner, spend part or most of each day at locations with air condition, including a friend’s house, shopping mall, senior center, or movie theater.
- Watch for heat stroke: It is extremely important to watch for signs of heat stroke, especially for seniors. Some signs to look for include confusion, disorientation, dry skin, excessive tiredness, headache, lethargy, nausea, and a rapid pulse. If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
- Check on friends and family: Use the rising temperatures as an opportunity to catch up with your neighbors and relatives, especially the elderly and those who do not have air conditioning. Plan outings together in places that have air conditioning.
- Review your medications: Many seniors use medications daily. Some medications can cause side effects, like increased sensitivity to UV rays. Review all medications and check with a doctor or pharmacist for any questions.
- Drink plenty of fluids: Aim to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water per day. By the time you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. For seniors, the feeling of thirst decreases as we age, so be sure to increase your water intake if you are exercising or doing any type of prolonged physical activity. Of those fluids you are taking in, be sure they are non-alcoholic and decaffeinated. Carbonated sodas and pops may taste good, but they will only further your dehydration
Photo by Liam Moloney
General Sunburn Safety
If you do get sunburned, your skin may become warm, red, and blistered (in extreme cases). The area may be painful and feel itchy at times. If the pain is too much, the CDC recommends aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. A cool shower or bath may also relieve the pain. Aloe Vera gels or creams can soothe and moisturize the skin after the bath. Since sunburns can dehydrate your body, increase your fluid intake for the next two to three days. You can also use cold water and ice packs to ease the pain and relieve swelling and redness to the affected areas. Never burst or pop blisters that form, this can increase your chances of an infection. In severe cases that do not heal with the above remedies, make sure you see your doctor.
General Skin Safety
Regularly inspect your skin in the mirror or with help from your doctor. Report skin abnormalities to your doctor such as:
- Rashes that do not go away
- Changes in the shape or size of a mole
- Abnormal redness, blistering, or bruising over a bony area
- Rashes that are raised, red or have scaly patches