(MILTON, Del.) - Hot weather can lead to long days at the beach, but it can also lead to heat-related illnesses if you're not careful.
"If you look at the statistics, the heat-related death in the United States sometimes is more than hurricanes, landslides, lightning, and floods combined. So, we have a lot of people dying from heat exhaustion, which can be prevented," said Dr. Uday Jani, MD, FACP, of Shore View Personalized Medical Care.
While people of all ages face potential heat-related illnesses, Dr. Jani says the elderly are at greater risk due to underlying medical conditions and medications.
"Some of the medications like diuretics, which are fruit pills that they take for congestive heart failure or for high blood pressure, all of these pre-disposes them to become dehydrated," explained Dr. Jani. "And then when they are exposed to heat, it causes a bigger problem."
Dr. Jani says the level of heat exhaustion depends on the patient's health status, their hydration level, how much exposure they've had, and the time of day they were exposed. He says if someone with heat exhaustion doesn't get help, they could fall into a heat coma.
"People don't realize if it's a hot, humid day, which happens a lot at the beaches, you don't sweat as much. The only way a body can cool down is by sweating. When you don't feel hot, you don't drink as much, and then you get dehydrated," explained Dr. Jani.
Dr. Jani says older patients with heat exhaustion often tell him they fainted at home, their blood pressure dropped, and they got dehydrated. Some other common symptoms include a headache, fever and muscle cramps.
Fortunately, heat-related illnesses are preventable; yet, the biggest mistake people make, according to Dr. Jani, is not drinking enough water even when they're not thirsty.
"People don't realize that even if they are in a shaded area, and the heat index is high, they are prone to dehydration," said Dr. Jani.
But be careful what you drink; consuming large amounts of caffeine and sugar could make things a lot worse.
"A lot of people feel that drinking tea or coffee is the same as drinking water, but that is not the case because caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks basically make you more dehydrated," said Dr. Jani.
Dr. Jani says a good rule of thumb is to drink at least one to two glasses of water every half hour, because sometimes medical conditions can interfere with feeling thirsty, especially for diabetics.
Dr. Jani also suggests wearing loose-fitting clothes that are light in color and weight. For those who like to garden, try to work early in the morning (before 10 a.m.) and later in the evening (after 6 p.m.). That way, you're out of the sun when the heat index is highest. Lastly, older adults who live alone should have at least one person check up on them twice a day in case of an emergency.