During the summer months, it’s important to stay vigilant and aware of heat-related illnesses and potential heat risks. Older adults are especially at risk of heat stroke or exhaustion. On this page, you’ll find information on heat-related illnesses and their symptoms, and what to do to respond.
Heat-related illnesses and what to do:
- Heat exhaustion: This heat-related illness is one of the biggest threats to older adults as it can quickly progress to heat stroke. When heat exhaustion occurs, this is the body’s way of signaling that it can no longer keep or regulate the body’s temperature. Some symptoms include dizziness, weakness, thirst, nausea, cold and clammy skin, or rapid pulse. Recommendation: remove yourself from the heat, go to a cool place, and drink plenty of water. If untreated, this may lead to a heat stroke.
- Heat Stroke: This is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. Older adults without air conditioning, dehydrated individuals, or the chronically ill are at the highest risk. See below for more details.
- Heat Syncope: This describes a sudden dizziness that may occur when you are exposed to excessive heat during physical activity. Recommendation: Rest in a cool place and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated if this occurs.
- Heat cramps: These painful tightening of your muscles located in your stomach, legs, or arms can occur due to hot conditions. Recommendation: Rest in a cool place and drink plenty of water.
- Heat edema: Edema refers to swelling in your ankles or feet. Recommendation: lay down with your legs up in a cool environment to reduce swelling.
Possible symptoms of a heat illness include:
- dizziness or fainting
- nausea or vomiting
- rapid breathing and heartbeat
- extreme thirst (dry mouth or sticky saliva)
- decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine
- changes in behaviour in children (like sleepiness or temper tantrums)
- Cover up your skin: Wear light, long sleeve clothing and remember that your face, ears, and scalp can get sunburned, too.
- Limit time in the sun: The sun is the strongest between 10am–4pm, so limiting exposure during this time is important.
- Wear sunscreen: Ensure you make note of the SPF, and that it is higher than 50. If entering water, reapply sunscreen right after.
- Make note of the UV index: A UV index higher than 3 is most dangerous for your skin.
- Stay hydrated!
What to do if someone gets sunburned:
- Place the person in a cool (not cold) shower or bath, or apply cool compresses several times a day. Do not wash burned skin with harsh soap.
- Avoid creams or lotions that may hold heat inside the skin or may contain numbing medication (i.e. benzocaine or lidocaine). Aloe gel can be used.
- Offer the person extra fluids for the next two to three days.
- If needed to relieve pain, give the person ibuprofen or acetaminophen, as directed. Do not give aspirin to children.
- Make certain all sunburned areas are fully covered to protect the person from further sun exposure.
What is it?
A heat stroke occurs when your body can no longer control and regulate the body’s temperature. This is one of the most common and most serious heat-related illnesses.
- A body temperature over 40 degrees celsius
- Dry, flushed skin and a strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse
Who’s at risk:
- Individuals with poor functioning sweat glands
- Individuals with heart or blood vessel dysfunction
- Individuals over 50 years of age
- Individuals with a lung or kidney disease
- Individuals taking certain drugs, such as ones that regulate high blood pressure
- Individuals who are overweight or underweight
- Individuals who regularly consume drinks with caffeine or alcohol
Lowering your risk:
- Ensure you are properly hydrated by drinking plenty of water or juice. Limit consumption of drinks with caffeine and alcohol.
- If you live in a home without air conditioning or adequate ventilation, keep your blinds and curtains closed during the warmest parts of the day (11am – 4pm), and keep your windows open at night.
- If your house is too hot during the day, consider going elsewhere such as a mall, a friend’s house, a relative’s house, a senior center, or a library that has air conditioning.
- If a friend or relative cannot drive you to one of the above places, call a taxi service or a senior transportation service such as our iRide program. Do not wait for a bus or walk in the heat.
- Wear clothing with cotton or natural fabrics. Cotton and other natural fabrics are cooler than polyester and other synthetic fibers.
- Avoid exercising in hot weather.
When to go to the emergency room:
- If you experience any of the symptoms listed previously – headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea – as a result of being exposed to heat, visit an emergency room as this could be indicative of heat stroke.
- If you attempt to cool yourself down and symptoms do not dissipate, visit an emergency room immediately.