Originally published at http://onlinelpntorn.org/2014/2-4-6-8-now-its-time-to-educate-about-heat/
Where I live, it's hot. Therefore, where my patients live, it's hot. Nurses have the perfect opportunity to provide heat health and safety information, and we need to use that opportunity. Nearly every practice specialty will see heat-related illness or injury. Nurses need to provide patient education—it's a vital part of our professional duty—and hot weather safety education often gets overlooked.
People of all ages are eligible for sunburns and dehydration. Both can occur before the person notices how bad the situation has become, so discussing the importance of hydrating, keeping the skin covered and wearing hats and sunblock, and planning activities during cooler parts of the day is both vital and appropriate for everyone.
For Children and Parents
Kiddos are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and injuries. They have new skin that burns quickly, and the sooner they get sunburned the greater their chances of developing skin cancer later in life. Adorn their cute little faces with cute little hats and slather them in sunblock. Keep them in the shade whenever possible. Good habits started early in life will also carry through!
Do not use your own comfort to judge how your child is faring. Babies and toddlers cannot tell you when they are too hot, and children have more difficulty regulating their body temperature because of their different surface area ratios. They are little and become dangerously dehydrated much more quickly than an adult would.
Summer time is swim time. Kids lose track of time at the pool. Remind older children to take breaks in the shade and reapply sunblock, and educate them so that they understand they can get dangerously burned even when they're underwater.
Never leave a child in a car! Appropriate advice for any season, it should be emphasized and reemphasized. Watch this video for a startling glimpse of how quickly a car heats up (and remember, this is an adult; a small child cannot verbalize how she feels). Also see this information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about children in hot cars.
For Older People and Caretakers
This information [PDF] from the National Weather Service on heat-related fatalities shows that men aged >50 years are the most likely victims of heat-related deaths. As we age, we do not feel thirsty as often, and this contributes to the danger of dehydration. Changes in the skin and other body structures cause the body to perceive heat less and less as it ages (consider that nursing homes always feel very hot, yet the residents are wearing sweaters year-round), so older people truly do not realize they are in danger. They do not feel hot or thirsty!
Community service recommendations urge people to check on their elderly neighbors and family members to ensure they have fans or air-conditioning. Why? Because famously, elderly people do not feel as hot as younger people and may have less income available to pay for electricity, so they do not run fans or air-conditioning. Add to this that they do not perceive thirst, and the statistics make sense.
Why do older men die more frequently than older women from the heat? This is an interesting question not answered by research, as far as I can tell. My purely anecdotal guess is that men keep working as hard as they always have in the yard and around the house and fail to account for their lack of thirst and diminishing accuracy of perceiving how hot it is. Whatever the reason, simply knowing this trend should prompt nurses to educate older patients (both male and female!) about the importance of drinking even when they are not thirsty and about the changes in their bodies that change nor they perceive and react to heat.