Hyperthermia is the general name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses. Warm weather and outdoor activity go hand in hand. However, it is important for older people to take action to avoid the severe health problems often caused by hot weather. Regardless of extreme weather conditions, the healthy human body keeps a steady temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.The two most common forms of hyperthermia are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Of the two, heat stroke is especially dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. Heat stress occurs when a strain is placed on the body as a result of hot weather.
Heat fatigue is a feeling of weakness brought on by high outdoor temperature. Symptoms include cool, moist skin and a weakened pulse. The person many feel faint.Heat syncope is a sudden dizziness experienced after exercising in the heat. The skin appears pale and sweaty but is generally moist and cool. The pulse is weakened and the heart rate is usually rapid. Body temperature is normal.
Hyperthermia is generally diagnosed by the combination of unexpectedly high body temperature and a history that supports hyperthermia instead of a fever. The presence of signs and symptoms related to hyperthermia syndromes, such as extrapyramidal symptoms characteristic of neuroleptic malignant syndrome, and the absence of signs and symptoms more commonly related to infection-related fevers, are also considered in making the diagnosis. The underlying cause must be removed. Mild hyperthemia caused by exertion on a hot day may be adequately treated through self-care measures, such as increased water consumption and resting in a cool place.
Hyperthermia that results from drug exposure requires prompt cessation of that drug, and occasionally the use of other drugs as counter measures. Antipyretics (e.g., acetaminophen, aspirin, other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) have no role in the treatment of heatstroke because antipyretics interrupt the change in the hypothalamic set point caused by pyrogens; they are not expected to work on a healthy hypothalamus that has been overloaded, as in the case of heatstroke.
The frequency of environmental hyperthermia can vary significantly from year to year depending on factors such as heat waves. Statistically, outdoor workers, including agricultural workers, are at increased risk of experiencing heat stress and the resulting negative health effects.