Summertime and the Heat is On

Dr. ALlen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR

by Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR
President, NCH Healthcare System

August 4, 2006 - August is one of our hottest months, bringing with it the potential for heat related illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 1999 to 2002 excessive heat caused 8,966 deaths in the United States. During this period of time more people died of heat related illnesses than from lightning, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.

What can we do to protect ourselves? First the obvious answers—don’t get over exposed to sun, drink plenty of fluids, and slowly adapt to the environment. Beverages should be non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated because alcohol and caffeine act as diuretics which cause more fluid loss. High risk people such as infants, senior citizens, alcoholics, beginning athletes, workers new to outdoor conditions, and people with circulatory or other medical problems need to be especially careful.

Our natural “air conditioner” is our ability to perspire. When we sweat, the evaporation of water from our body cools our skin. However, when the ambient conditions are both warm and humid, evaporation is less efficient, and therefore we can’t rid ourselves of as much heat as when conditions are cool and dry. We also lose salt as we perspire causing our sweat to taste salty and burn our eyes. Salt usually does not have to be replaced unless we are doing prolonged exercise such as marathon running.

Drinking fluids before we get thirsty is also key to avoiding the problems of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, muscle cramps, and passing out. People should drink about a cup of water or any non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluid every 15 to 30 minutes. Make this intake a habit. With all of the bottled water and sports drinks available now, this routine should not be a problem. In general, being over-hydrated is better than being dehydrated.

If you do get over exposed, the best therapy is to get into a cool, air conditioned environment, rest, drink fluids and seek help if the symptoms persist. Most people will recover easily when they rest. If you remain flushed, light headed, or sick in any other way, then you may need to get medical assistance.

In Collier County, we have many wonderful ways to exercise while avoiding excessive heat exposure. Both of NCH Healthcare’s Wellness Centers offer over 150 classes each week to about 7,000 members. Drinking water is always available in these two centers, and the temperature along with the humidity is well controlled to avoid heat exhaustion, muscle cramps, and other problems. Early morning walking or running is usually cooler and avoids the direct heat of the sun. All of the water sports keep you cool as you exercise. Golfers and tennis players need to hydrate and wear light colored absorbent clothing which reflect the sun and help with evaporation—both resulting in the body being cooler.

Enjoy August, but stay cool.


Dr. Allen Weiss is President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.