Heat stress awareness for Older Adults and Children
What is heat stress?
When the beautiful summer heat is combined with physical work, loss of fluids or a pre-existing medical condition, our body’s internal cooling system is affected causing heat stress. Older adults are at a higher risk due to the possibility of being on medications and/or suffering from chronic medical conditions, causing their body to not adjust to higher temperatures properly.
(Ontario Ministry of Labour, 2014; OHSCO, 2019)
Heat stress causes a range of disorders that can be mild to severe. All should be taken seriously and treatments should be implemented.
Heat Rash – a heat rash is caused by being in a hot, humid environment and your sweat glands have been plugged. It is characterized by an itchy, red and bumpy rash. It can be treated by changing clothes and rinsing skin with cool water.
Sunburn – Too much sun exposure can lead to a sunburn, which is characterized by red blistering/peeling skin. Blistering skin is a more severe form and should be treated with medical aid. To prevent sunburn, ensure you are applying sunscreen regularly.
Heat Cramps – Can be a warning of other more dangerous heat-induced illness, so it is important to treat them quickly. These cramps are caused by a salt imbalance in the body from loss of fluid through sweating. To treat them, massage and stretch affected area and drink cool salted water or an electrolyte drink.
Fainting –Fainting is caused by inadequate water intake, resulting in decreased blood flow to the brain. Along with the act of sudden fainting, the person will demonstrate a weak pulse and have cool moist skin. It is important to seek medical attention. Have the person lie down, and assess their breathing to determine if CPR will be necessary.
Heat Exhaustion – Another disorder caused by inadequate fluid intake, causing a salt imbalance in the body. The body’s cooling system isn’t working properly, so symptoms include a temperature over 38 degrees, cool moist skin, weak pulse and low blood pressure. They should seek medical attention immediately. The goal with treatment is to bring the body temperature back down, so it is important to loosen clothes, drink sips of water, fan the person and bring them to a cool shaded area.
Heat Stroke – There are two types of heat stroke. For both it is important to call an ambulance ASAP!
- Classic heat stroke – the body has used up its water and salt reserves and it stops sweating causing a rise in body temperature.
- Exertional heat stroke – the body’s cooling mechanism cannot get rid of excessive heat. Can be more common in children who engage in strenuous activity for a long time
Both types are characterized by a temperature over 41 degrees and the person is confused, weak, upset or acting strangely. Their skin will be hot and dry and their face bright red. If the stroke is becoming more severe, the person may experience convulsions.
Treatments to help reduce symptoms of all disorders are move into a cool and shaded area immediately, and stay hydrated. Also, if any symptoms worsen and do not improve, always seek medical attention!
(Ontario Ministry of Labour, 2014).
How Can you Prevent Heat Stress in your loved ones this Summer?
- Reduce physical demands by using hoists, lifts, etc.
- Air cooling to reduce heat and humidity (fans, air conditioners etc.)
- If outside, use shaded areas as much as possible
- Light clothing, hats, sunglasses for eye protection
- Cool showers/baths
- STAY HYDRATED
- If an older adult is on medications that restrict fluids or is on water pills, they can discuss with their physician how much water intake is needed for hot weather
Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention [CDC]. (2017). Heat and Older Adults. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/older-adults-heat.html
Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario [OHSCO]. (2019). Heat stress awareness guide. Retrieved from: https://www.ohcow.on.ca/edit/files/heatstressawareness/Heat%20Stress%20Awareness%20Guide.pdf
Ontario Ministry of Labour. (2014). Heat stress. Retrieved from agency website: https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/gl_heat.php