Heat Folly: Mad Dogs and Englishmen
In the late
1800s Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the
noonday sun.” “Mad Dogs
and Englishmen” is also the title of a song written by Noël Coward in
1931. Alas, today there
seem to a lot of others who repeat that folly.
Summer is here along with its heat and humidity.
And with those conditions come problems with your body’s response
to heat, the three most serious of which are heat cramps, heat
exhaustion, and heat stroke.
The good news is that usually those problems can be headed off by
using that rare commodity we call common sense.
In case you’re in a hurry, let me start with the
bottom line meaning of common sense.
In hot weather and especially if it’s humid as well, avoid
strenuous exercise or other forms of over-exertion, avoid over-dressing,
minimize alcohol intake, and drink more water than you would think
These cautions are even more important if you’re
younger than 4 or older than 65, are taking certain drugs, obese, or
likely to encounter sudden temperature changes such as entering or
leaving an overly cooled supermarket.
Heat and Your Body.
Here is what’s going on in your body with regard
Your body needs heat to initiate and maintain
the biochemical reactions that keep you alive and functioning.
Your body continuously produces its own heat from the food you
eat. Your body has complex
control mechanisms to maintain a more or less constant body temperature
around 98.6°F in most people,
but a bit higher or lower in others.
Different parts of the body need to be kept at a
similar temperature, and this is accomplished mainly by the blood
flowing around every part of you.
The heat carried by the blood is sensitively maintained by your
body’s awareness and control of the temperature of tissues through which
the blood flows, the thickness of the blood, how fast it’s flowing, and
the diameter of the blood vessels.
If there is too much heat in your body it needs
to be reduced. To make
this happen your body triggers sweat glands in your skin to bring more
moisture to the outer layer of skin.
The difference in temperature between your body and the outside
causes the moisture to evaporate, and because evaporation is a cooling
process your excess body heat is reduced.
So here’s the problem with heat and humidity:
The greater the difference between your body temperature and the
air temperature the greater will be the evaporative cooling effect.
If the air temperature is the same as your body temperature then
no evaporation takes place and so there is no cooling.
This is made worse if the humidity is high because the air
already has a lot of moisture and it’s more difficult for your body to
add more moisture to the air.
This means that if the outside temperature is in
the mid-90°s, near your normal body temperature, then you really need to
find a way artificially to cool your body: air conditioning, immersing
yourself in cool water, or something else.
How to Know When
You're in Trouble.
Here are some ways to tell if you’re getting in
trouble because of the heat.
If you experience heavy sweating, fatigue, and
muscle cramps then it’s likely that the cramps are heat cramps.
These are the mildest form of heat illness, and are most easily
controlled by increasing water intake, even sports drinks like Gatorade,
by getting into the shade or other cooler location, and resting.
Failure to act on these symptoms may lead to
heat exhaustion. With this
condition you may still have heavy sweating, fatigue, and muscle cramps,
but you may also have cool, wet, goose-bumpy skin, dizziness, and a weak
rapid pulse as well as nausea and headache.
The same prescription as for heat cramps may help with heat
exhaustion, but if the symptoms continue for close to an
hour or if your temperature closes in on 104°F then please get to
your doctor or an emergency room immediately.
Heat stroke is the worst, and requires immediate
treatment. It happens as
your temperature rises above 104°F.
The effects may be permanent damage to your brain, heart,
kidneys, and muscles, with consequences worsening the longer treatment
is delayed. It can lead to
death. The symptoms are
generally exacerbations of those of heat exhaustion, but include as well
altered states of consciousness such as slurred speech, delirium,
seizures, and coma.
Call 911…this is a serious condition.
While waiting for help do what you can to cool the victim:
get into the shade, remove excess clothing, get the person into
cool water, spray with a garden hose, fan the person while spraying with
a mist, use icepacks or cool wet towels on the head, neck, armpits, and
groin. These efforts could
save the person’s life.
What Drugs Are
Drugs that you need for one condition or another
may increase your risk of illness due to heat.
These are medications like the beta blockers and diuretics you
may need for your heart, antihistamines for allergies, tranquilizers,
and antipsychotics. In
addition controlled substances such as cocaine and amphetamines work to
increase your temperature.
In short, be concerned about any medications or other substances that
may tend to dehydrate you or impair your body’s ability to control its
These days there is generally little reason for
anyone to suffer heat induced illnesses.
We know what circumstances cause them, and we know what first aid
to use should they occur.
It’s simply a matter of being aware of your body’s condition, and
avoiding the factors that contribute to illness caused by heat.
Be neither Mad Dog nor Englishman in the sense that Kipling and Coward
used those terms.
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