Heat a welcome relief from cold


Last updated 6/22/2022 at 3:01pm | View PDF

I just can't stand the bitter cold Chicago winters. With each passing year, I am becoming less tolerant of the cold, the wind, the polar vortices, the bone-chilling wind chills and the short, dark days.

And so, when the summer rolls around, I bask in the long, sunny days, and I no longer complain about the heat and humidity. 99 degrees with 99 percent humidity and excessive heat warning? Bring it on! 110 degree heat index? Is that all you can do?

That said, it has been very hot as of late. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting above normal temperatures for much of the United States in June, July and August. So, the days of near triple digit air temperatures and triple digit heat indices will likely be with us for months on end.

So, while I will be enjoying the heat, as a lung and critical care specialist, it is important to point out that such excessive heat does carry risks, and here are some tips to mitigate those risks.

First of all, with such excessive heat comes the potential to also excessively sweat. Thus, it is important to remain well-hydrated. But, the composition of your hydration is extremely important, especially if you will be outside for long periods of time and engaged in any sort of physical activity.

Drinking just water - without any electrolytes or calories - can be potentially dangerous. That is because we lose salt and other electrolytes in our sweat. If we only replete with water, we can cause our sodium levels to become dangerously low, causing a condition called hyponatremia. If severe enough, it can cause seizures and altered sensorium.

In fact, several years ago in July, I had a patient who came to my ICU after having a seizure due to severely low sodium levels. Turns out, he rode his motorcycle from Ohio to our area and drank only water.

The best thing to do is drink something with sugar and electrolytes, especially if you will be playing sports or doing other activities in the summer heat.

In addition, people with asthma and other lung conditions should be very careful when the heat and humidity climb, as it can affect their breathing adversely. Thus, when it gets too hot, it may be prudent to stay indoors in an air conditioned environment.

Like I said, I love the summer, heat and all. It is a great season: long, warm days that allow us to fully enjoy the outdoors and bask in the refreshing sunlight. With excessive heat can come health risks, but if we are careful, we can stay safe and enjoy the season at the same time.

- Hesham Hassaballa of Hinsdale is a guest columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].


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