Rice said young children, outdoor workers and athletes are at higher risk from excessive heat.

“Children produce more heat and sweat less than adults,” she said. “They also are not as self-aware and need adults to remind them to drink enough fluids, so parents and other care providers need to make sure kids acclimate to the heat and stay adequately hydrated.”

Rice said children particularly at risk for heat-related illness are those who are overweight, don’t regularly exercise, have had a recent illness that included vomiting or diarrhea, or take medication that may dehydrate them

“People who work outdoors or participate in outdoor athletics are also particularly susceptible,” she added. “They too must ensure they take frequent rest and water breaks and don’t overtax themselves. And if at all possible, try and do the most strenuous activities in the morning before it gets too hot.”

Older people too are at higher risk for heat-related illness as their bodies are less able to adjust and respond to heat exposure as they advance in years,” said Andy Crocker, an AgriLife Extension specialist in health and wellness for older adults. “As people age, their circulation and sweat glands become less efficient and their body’s ability to conserve water is reduced.”

Crocker added that chronic illness, hormonal changes, medication, disability and neglect are also issues that may contribute to heat-related illness among the elderly. One special consideration for older adults is that they speak with their health provider about how reactions to their medications may be affected by the heat.

“Someone on a diuretic or water-restricted treatment may not be able to drink a lot of fluids,” he said. “Older people should discuss this with a doctor or pharmacist to see how (they) should handle this situation in the extreme heat.”

Extreme heat also can have a psychological or emotional impact on people of all ages, noted Dr. Rick Peterson, AgriLife Extension family life specialist.

Peterson said research has shown that high heat is a factor in sleeplessness, which may increase the risk of aggression -- or at least cause a reduction in tolerance.

“Sleep experts say your bedroom needs to be dark and cool,” he said. “Make sure bedding is of natural fiber and use a fan to circulate the air, especially if there’s limited or no air conditioning. Also, if possible, move your bed closer to the floor where it’s likely to be cooler or try sleeping in another room of the house that’s cooler than your bedroom.”

Peterson said prolonged exposure to heat can also result in an escalation of overall stress or contribute to a sort of emotional “piling-up or ballooning” effect, especially if someone is already under some type of stress.”

He said while some people may require professional assistance with stress management, they might try a few things to help reduce it, including:

  • Staying out of the outdoors as much as possible.
  • Adapting the way they view a situation and adapting a more positive attitude.
  • Accepting what they cannot change about a situation and focusing on the things they can to make it better.

For more information on the effects of heat exposure and how to better manage that exposure, read Texas A&M University System’s Family and Consumer Sciences  HealthHints newsletter on this topic at  http://fcs.tamu.edu/health/healthhints/2008/aug/heat.pdf