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The Long, Hot Summer Ahead, by Thomas W. Shinder, M.D.

As those in the southern hemisphere start to gather firewood and bundle up for the winter, we "up north" are looking toward what promises to be another long, hot summer. Those who work outside or who engage in out- door activities must start now to prepare for the special problems that warmer weather brings. Some like it hot, they say -- but the one who coined that expression must not have ever spent July in Arizona or Texas.

No matter where you live, though, chances are as global warming increases temperatures all over the globe, you will eventually live or visit someplace where the sun shines just a little too much and a little too harshly.

In the southern and southwestern parts of the United States, temperatures in the summer often soar to over 100 degrees day after day. Every year, there are reports of heat-related deaths, and those who must endure the heat waves are in need of tips on how to survive with their health intact.

Modern women are on the go much more than their mothers and grand- mothers were. Traditionally, people followed their instincts and life slowed down during the hottest times of the year. Overactivity is a primary culprit in overheating. But no longer do most of us, male or female, have time to "take it easy" just because it's hot outside. We barrel ahead and try to keep up the same fast pace despite the temperature. Sometimes we end up paying for it.

Unfortunately, women have also been brainwashed by society into thinking it's "unfeminine" to sweat (or, to put it more delicately, perspire) and may use products designed to keep them "dry" when in reality, perspiration serves the essential purpose of cooling the body. Also, many women take diuretics, often in an effort to lose weight, which cause dehydration and increases the risk of heat stroke.

It's important for you to know the symptoms -- and heed them. Often the first stage of heat-related illness includes muscle cramps, dizziness or weakness. If you get out of the sun, get into a cool place, and replenish your body's liquids at this stage, you may avert the progression to the next phase.

If you don't, you may suffer from headache, increased dizziness, elevated or lowered blood pressure, or nausea. The next and final stage may manifest itself in vomiting, loss of mental alertness, and body temperature may rise as high as 105 degrees F. At this point, there is a serious danger to life and immediate medical attention is essential.

So follow a few common sense rules to keep cool when the weather heats up. Drink plenty of water, and if you must be outside, find shade if possible.Don't overexert yourself when temperatures are high, especially if you're out of shape. Do you really have to get that lawn mowed today? Is it absolutely necessary to stick with your daily jogging program when the thermometer hits 110 degrees F? Is it worth a heat stroke or a heart attack?

Finally, remember that this too will pass. Next January, when you're complaining about the bulkiness of your heavy jacket and how your winter gloves hinder your dexterity and you're running the car heater full blast to try to keep warm while slipping and sliding all over the ice, think about how nice a little heat wave would feel.

Tom ShinderThomas W. Shinder, M.D., M.C.P. is a neurologist-turned-computer systems engineer who practiced medicine in Texas, Oregon and Arkansas before moving to his present home in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas metropolitan area.

E-mail Thomas at:

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