Tips for Beating the Summer Heat

We’ve officially reached the Dog Days of summer. It’s the hottest time of the year, when we’re longing for those cool, crisp fall evenings. But have you ever wondered where the phrase “Dog Days” comes from?

Dog Days of SummerNo, it doesn’t refer to a furry Golden Retriever lying on the dry, dusty ground panting with his tongue in the dirt. Actually, the phrase originated in Greek and Roman literature in reference to Sirius, the dog star, which rises with the sun this time of year (or, more accurately, appeared to rise with the sun if you happened to live in the Mediterranean around 1200 BC). The Greeks associated the rise of Sirius with an increase in wars, catastrophes, and fevers.

Although modern science tells us the stars don’t shift in relation to our calendar seasons (let alone, cause nations to go to war) there are heat-related dangers we should be aware of and important steps we can take to beat the heat this time of year.

1. Dehydration is an imbalance of the body that occurs when the amount of fluid leaving the body (e.g., through sweating) is greater than the amount of fluid being taken in (e.g., through drinking).

Signs to look for:

  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Decreased urine output

What to do:

  • Sip small amounts of water
  • Drink electrolyte-rich beverages, such as sports drinks
  • Suck on ice chips
  • Remove excess clothing
  • Spray skin with lukewarm water to cool the body

2. Heat Exhaustion is a mild heat-related illness that can develop after days of being exposed to high temperatures and not drinking enough water.

Signs to look for:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Elevated pulse
  • Shallow breathing

What to do:

  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages
  • Rest
  • Take a cool shower or bath
  • If possible, find an air-conditioned environment

3. Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to regulate its temperature. Body temperature rises quickly and remains high. Heat stroke can lead to death or disability if left untreated.

Signs to look for: 

  • Extreme fever (above 103˚F) 
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

What to do:

  • Get the person to a shady area
  • Cool the person using whatever methods are available (e.g., put the person in a tub of cool water, spray him or her with cool water and fan him or her)
  • Seek medical assistance as soon as possible

Of course, our best defense against heat-related illness is prevention. To stay safe and healthy: avoid going outside during the hottest time of the day (10am-2pm), stay cool, drink plenty of fluids (Warning: some medications require limited fluids. Make sure to check with your doctor if you are unsure how much you should drink.), decrease physical activity, and wear light-colored clothing during hot weather.

Luckily, fall is just around the corner and we won’t be dealing with the extreme heat much longer. With the start of fall, comes National Falls Prevention Month. I will be participating this September by giving a talk entitled “Who will catch you…when you fall?” Be sure to checkout next month’s blog post for a complete schedule of events, as well as my best tips for preventing falls in and around the home.