June 17, 2010

Heat, humidity can create health risk at any age

Missouri Summer Safety Week highlights prevention

The heat and humidity that often mark summertime in Missouri can create a health hazard for people of all ages, state health officials warn.

While the very young, the elderly and the chronically ill are at greatest risk of heat-related illness, summer temperatures can take a toll on healthy young and middle-aged adults, too.

Of the 11 Missourians who died from heat-related causes last year, eight were 25 to 64 years of age. Only three were age 65 or older.

Missouri Summer Safety Week, June 20-26, highlights measures Missourians can take to prevent heat-related illness and death. Between 2000 and 2009, there were 214 deaths in Missouri from heat- related causes.

"High temperatures coupled with high humidity can cause health problems quickly and with little warning," said Margaret Donnelly, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. "Summer Safety Week reminds us of the precautions we need to take to protect ourselves and others, especially those who are particularly vulnerable to the heat."

The elderly and the chronically ill perspire less and are more likely to be taking medication that can impair the body's response to heat or that make them more sensitive to the heat.

Those medications include antihistamines, over-the-counter sleeping pills, antidepressants, heart drugs, antipsychotics, major tranquilizers and some medications for Parkinson's disease. People should check with their doctor or pharmacist to find out if their medications make them more sensitive to summer's high temperatures.

Seniors citizens on fixed incomes often do not have air conditioning or feel they cannot afford the extra expense of running it. Since many seniors live alone, Missourians should check on elderly family members and neighbors regularly to be sure they are not suffering from the effects of the heat.

Donnelly urges Missourians to use the state's toll-free abuse and neglect hotline at 1-800-392-0210 to report senior citizens or adults with disabilities suffering from the heat and needing assistance. The hotline operates 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week.

Young children are also sensitive to heat and must rely on adults to regulate their environments to prevent heat-related illness.

Infants and children should not be left unattended in hot environments, especially in cars, even with the air conditioner running. A car's interior can reach oven-like temperatures in minutes, putting anyone inside at risk of overheating. Children also should not be allowed to play in or around cars. Small children can become trapped because they are not big enough to open the door or roll down the window to get out. They also can fall asleep inside a hot vehicle or play or hide in the trunk of a car.

Children also can become dehydrated very quickly. Small children often do not drink as much liquid as they should and can become dehydrated. Adults need to encourage children to drink plenty of fluids every day.

Symptoms as modest as dizziness or muscle cramps can be signs of heat-related illness. For more warning signs and ways to treat the heat, visit www.dhss.mo.gov/Hyperthermia/HeatPrecautions.html.

To locate a cooling center near you where seniors and other people at risk of heat related illness can go to cool down, visit www.dhss.mo.gov/coolingcenter2010.pdf.