Summer Heat Wave – Handle with Care - VA North Texas Health Care System
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Summer Heat Wave – Handle with Care

Man in the sun wiping his brow.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Did you know that more people die each year from excessive heat events than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined?  Anyone can be adversely affected by excessive heat, but older adults are particularly vulnerable.  Excessive heat events are prolonged periods when temperatures reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more above the average high temperature for a region.

An increase in the frequency of extreme heat events may result in more heat-related deaths, injuries, infectious diseases and stress-related disorders. The majority of persons who suffer and die during an extreme heat event are older adults who are more susceptible to adverse health effects from environmental stresses, including poor air quality associated with high temperatures.

People with chronic respiratory conditions are advised to stay indoors during the heat of the day. During summer heat, clear skies and high humidity, air quality is adversely affected, and these conditions keep the body from acquiring the oxygen it needs and puts those with respiratory illnesses at risk.

Robert Yeatts, RRT/RCP, chief of Respiratory Therapy at Dallas VA Medical Center, says hot summer time puts additional challenges on Veterans whose breathing is already stressed. “We advise Veterans with emphysema, COPD or other chronic respiratory conditions to stay inside as much as possible during the heat of the day.”

Veterans are also encouraged to pay attention to the Air Quality Index and ozone alerts provided in news and weather reports to determine if they should be outdoors on a particular day.


Excessive heat events are surprisingly deadly. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself.


The best defense against excessive heat is prevention. Air conditioning is one of the best protective factors against heat-related illness and death. Even a few hours a day in air conditioning can greatly reduce the risk.

The following prevention strategies can save lives:

  • Visit air-conditioned buildings in your community if your home is not air-conditioned.
  • Take a cool shower or bath.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. If a doctor limits your fluid intake, make sure to ask how much to drink when it’s hot. Avoid beverages containing caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar as they cause dehydration.
  • Ask your doctor or other health care provider if the medications you take could increase your susceptibility to heat-related illness.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.
  • Visit at-risk individuals at least twice a day. Watch for signs of heat-related illness such as hot, dry skin, confusion, hallucinations and aggression.
  • Call 9-1-1 if medical attention is needed.

Don’t let the heat rob your summer time pleasures. Know your risks and recognize your body’s warning signs. When the heat is too much, drink sips of water and find a cool place to relax.

Have a safe and healthy summer!

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