Heat of summer can be danger to seniors, kids

July 11, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS



Marie Bowers runs her air conditioner and four fans in her apartment at Walnut Towers, but said it's still not enough to keep her cool.

"Sweat still runs down my cheek," Bowers said.

While it's not a common side effect, Bowers, 58, said hydrocodone, a pain medication she takes, makes her feel warmer than normal and the summer heat only makes her feel more nauseated. Bowers takes four hydrocodone pills a day to control the pain in her legs, back and neck.

"It makes me more lightheaded, lazy and I have no energy," Bowers said.

Seniors such as Bowers who take medication should use caution during the summer because many side effects can increase as the temperature rises, said Joe Scalese, a pharmacist at Weis Supermarket off Hagerstown's Dual Highway.


While the summer sun is a source of relaxation, it also may trigger life-threatening illnesses linked to medications, age and weight, area health experts said.

To raise awareness, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a public warning statewide last week about the risks of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

"We are especially concerned about elderly people, young children and those who are overweight. Heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illness and other chronic health conditions also increase an individual's risk," department Secretary Nelson J. Sabanti said.

Avoiding heat-related illnesses can start with something as simple as a drink of water during the hot summer months, said Verna Brown, Washington County's emergency management coordinator.

"Drink water even when you don't feel thirsty," she said. "If you're outdoors working in the yard, take a water break every 15 to 20 minutes."

Water, fruits and other liquids may help prevent dehydration, which often precedes heat exhaustion and may lead to heat stroke, Brown said. However, alcoholic beverages and drinks high in caffeine dehydrate the body.

Other tips include staying indoors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. - the hottest hours of the day - and knowing if an existing medical condition places you at risk for a heat-related illness.

Young children are susceptible to sunburn and dehydration if they stay outside too long in the direct sunlight without taking breaks and if they don't wear sunscreen.

"You should never leave a young child or old person in a car without air conditioning in the summer," Brown said. Summer heat creates a greater physical strain for people suffering from respiratory illness and for people who are overweight, she said.

To date, Washington County 911 has received about six heat-related calls. Last summer, the department received 24 heat-related calls from residents displaying a variety of symptoms.

"They might call in and say 'I was out working in the yard and I feel sick,'" she said, "Or, they've just walked around the block in 90-degree weather and they've got a heart condition."

Patients on fluid-restricted diets, as well as those suffering from epilepsy or heart, kidney or liver disease should consult a doctor prior to any significant increase in daily water intake, Brown said.

Pharmacist Scalese said antibiotics, diuretics and hypertension medications are just a few on a long list of photosensitive medications listed on the Sun Safety Alliance Web site at

"Some sun-sensitive medications cause a rash and others increase your chance of getting sunburns," he said.

This can be dangerous for senior citizens.

"Older skin loses sensitivity to heat as it thins with age, which means some older people can't always feel their skin burning," Scalese said.

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