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East Coast heat wave: How the sun can kill

hot sun.jpg

NOTE: COPD is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, not cardio-obstructive pulmonary disorder as is referenced below.


Living in San Francisco, where the thermometer barely reaches 65 during June and July, I often find myself feeling summer-sick - and missing the warm temperatures that I experienced growing up in the Midwest. But an ABC story on the heat wave in the East reminded me today that being cool isn't the worst thing in the world:

Medical centers from Boston to Washington, D.C., report seeing more cases of dizziness, weakness, nausea, and other symptoms of heat exhaustion, as well as worsening of chronic illnesses including asthma and cardio-obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)...

The news also made me think of a Stanford Medicine magazine piece one of my colleagues wrote a few years back. The article focused on a California heat wave that left 38 dead and also broke down how the hot sun can kill:

It can take only 48 hours of uninterrupted exposure to intense heat before the body’s defenses begin to break down, says Eric A. Weiss, MD, [then-]assistant professor of emergency medicine at Stanford and an expert on heat illness. The longer a heat wave continues the more susceptible the body becomes to illness. Just a few hours of relief can break the cycle, which is why increased temperatures at night are so dangerous and why air conditioning is a life saver.

Heat illness results from dehydration at high temperatures. Dehydration causes the sweating mechanism to fail, eliminating the body’s natural cooling system. Body temperature may rise to 106 or higher in just 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke begins when people start to develop an altered level of consciousness, usually when their temperature rises above 105. Then the body starts to cook. First the brain cells die. Then the liver cells go. Fluid spills out into the lungs. If the body remains in the heat, the result can be coma and, finally, death.

For those of you dealing with the sweltering heat, the CDC has a good write-up (.pdf) on how to protect yourself and prevent illness.

Photo by liberalmind1012

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