Most of us relish a warm and hot summer, but excessive heat and humidity can wreak havoc on the body, often with serious health implications. Here’s how to look after your body when the mercury starts to rise.
How we regulate heat
The human body is designed to regulate heat. Mechanisms in the body, including the cardiovascular system, help to maintain a core body temperature of around 37 degrees Celsius, no matter what the weather.
The hypothalamus in the brain functions like a thermostat, so when it gets hot, the brain sends signals to nerves telling them to cool down. To do this, the excess heat in the body is absorbed with water, which is then released as sweat.
As we get older, this sweating mechanism doesn’t function as effectively as it should, which means the elderly (and young children for that matter) often struggle to regulate their body temperature during hot weather. This also makes it harder for the cardiovascular system to work properly, which can cause blood vessels in the skin to collapse, reducing the body’s ability to sweat. Heat then builds up in the body with nowhere to go, which can be damaging to health.
Older people are also more likely to have illnesses or take medications that make them more prone to overheating – these include heart disease, beta-blockers and aspirin. Additionally, as we age, we tend to eat and drink less, which can result in dehydration, often exacerbating heat-related disorders.
Effects of overheating
Excessive heat and humidity can have serious consequences. In fact, following the heatwave of 2018, 650 more deaths were reported than on average, with the blistering heat likely to blame.
Many people suffer from dehydration when it gets hot, as they fail to replenish adequate fluids in the body that have been lost from sweating. Dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue and muscle cramps.
When the body creates more heat than it loses, this results in a condition known as hyperthermia, or overheating. Especially common in older people who may have poor blood circulation or ineffective sweat glands, symptoms can include dizziness, nausea and an increased pulse.
If the body sweats excessively during hot weather, resulting in loss of fluids and salt, this can cause heat exhaustion. Sufferers may feel sick, confused and extremely thirsty.
Heatstroke is a very serious implication of exposure to heat and humidity. It occurs when the body isn’t able to cool itself down, resulting in a potentially life-threatening spiked temperature. If someone is confused, suffers a seizure or even loses consciousness, heatstroke may be to blame.
Health complications from heat exposure can be prevented, especially for those who are very young or old. Staying hydrated is one of the most important measures you can take to cope with hot weather, and, in particular, drinks that contain salts and carbohydrates may prove beneficial.
It’s always a good idea to keep out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, and avoid doing exercise at this time. Wearing cool, cotton fabrics in a light colour can encourage your body to breathe.
Stay in the coolest room of the house, or preferably a place with air-conditioning, and close the blinds and windows. If you’re visiting a hot climate, acclimatise slowly to the heat.
If someone displays symptoms of a heat-related disorder, it’s important that you attend to them immediately, especially if they’re very young or elderly. Give them a drink, move them to a cool room and elevate their legs. If they don’t start to feel better within half an hour, seek medical assistance.
With the wide range of professional air-conditioning services from Klima-Therm, suffering from the effects of heat and humidity shouldn’t be something you have to worry about.