For many, summertime means warm, sun-filled days with a long list of enjoyable possibilities — picnics, boating and sipping iced tea on the porch. But as outside temperatures rise, your internal body temperature still needs to stay within a tight range. The body rids itself of excess heat as needed, mainly by cooling by evaporation of sweat.
However, these mechanisms can only do so much.
Heat illness is a broad term for signs and symptoms that can occur when your body's cooling mechanisms become overwhelmed and your body temperature climbs too high. This can occur fairly rapidly if you're exerting yourself or exercising in hot weather. Or it can develop slowly over days — even without exertion. This most commonly occurs in older adults who have risk factors for heat illness and limited access to air conditioning.
Heat illness can range from mild to severe and can even be life-threatening. Thoughtful precautions can prevent most heat illness, but if it does occur, recognizing early signs and taking corrective action are crucial.
Older adults are at elevated risk of heat-related illness in part because with age, many of the body's natural cooling mechanisms decline and don't work as well. Certain diseases and conditions — such as heart and lung diseases, diabetes, obesity, poor fitness, impaired mobility, or cognitive issues — also can interfere with natural cooling mechanisms. So too can certain prescription drugs, such as diuretics for blood pressure, beta blocker heart drugs, antidepressants and antihistamines.
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