Can You Keep Your Cool During the Dog Days of August?
Although Americans still refer to the warmest part of summer as “the dog days,” we’ve mostly forgotten the meaning of that phrase. Many assume it’s because the summer heat either makes dogs lazy or drives them mad. Summer is, after all, peak rabies season. But the true meaning of dog days goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, who observed Sirius, the “dog star” rising just ahead of the sun in the east starting in late July. The Greeks believed that Sirius, the high-magnitude “nose” star of the dog constellation Canis Major, was bright enough to add to the summer heat, making the days that much hotter. After roughly 29 centuries, Sirius rises a bit later in the year, so folks in the United States, who want to rise about 45 minutes before the sun, can see the dog star starting around August 3.
The Greek poet Homer writing The Iliad in the 8th century B.C.E. associated the dog days of summer with the onset of war and other catastrophes. We no longer buy into such superstitions, but we should be conscious of the risks to our health when the weather becomes unbearably hot.
The danger of dehydration during August
Johns Hopkins Medicine warns that dehydration is a serious health risk during the hottest days of the summer, and that children and adults over the age of 60 are most vulnerable. Dehydration occurs when the body loses water content and essential body salts, such as sodium and potassium. Symptoms include:
- Less-frequent urination
- Dry skin
- Dry mouth and mucous membranes
- Increased heart rate and breathing
Parents should be aware that children who are dehydrated might not realize they’re being affected. They can display these additional symptoms:
- Crying without shedding tears
- No wet diapers for several hours
- Sunken abdomen, eyes, or cheeks
- Skin that does not flatten when pinched and released
Besides the heat, here are some factors that increase your risk of dehydration:
- Alcohol consumption — Your body uses fluids to flush alcohol out of your system, so a long day drinking beer or cocktails in the sun can leave you dehydrated even though you’re taking in fluids.
- Caffeine consumption — Caffeine in coffee and tea accelerates your metabolism so fluids leave your system more quickly.
- Sugar consumption — Sugary foods and drinks force your body to process glucose through your urine.
- Smoking — Smoking puts toxins in your bloodstream. Your body will respond by using fluids to flush your system.
- Medications — Diuretics deplete body fluids and electrolytes. Ask your doctor or pharmacists if your meds could exacerbate dehydration.
To prevent dehydration, you need to replenish fluids. Smart water that replaces electrolytes is helpful. Many sports drinks can effectively restore body fluids, electrolytes, and salt balance. You should also avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day. Severe dehydration requires medical attention. An IV can restore fluids fairly quickly before major damage occurs.
Heat and dehydration are especially dangerous for the elderly and individuals with chronic conditions, such as diabetes. A high body temperature can lower a person’s blood sugar, so diabetics should check their sugar levels more often when exposed to extreme heat.
Beyond dehydration: the deadly risk of heat stroke
Dehydration can lead to heat stroke, which can be deadly. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s cooling system fails, and the body temperature rises to a dangerously high level. Johns Hopkins Medicine tells us the symptoms of heat stroke can vary, but may include:
- Disorientation, agitation, or confusion
- Hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty
- A high body temperature
- Rapid heartbeat
A person presenting symptoms of heat stroke should receive immediate medical attention.
In addition to the steps mentioned above to prevent dehydration, you can help prevent heat stroke if you:
- Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing in light colors
- Protect from the sun by wearing a hat and sunglasses and using an umbrella
- Acclimate to the summer heat by gradually Increasing time spent outdoors
- Mist yourself with a spray bottle
- Spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.
Parents must supervise their children closely during long days out in the sun, and educate them about the proper precautions. Coaches of summer sports must understand the dangers of dehydration and heat stroke and protect their young athletes.
Basically, the car becomes a greenhouse
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the extreme danger to children and pets left in closed cars on warm days. According to Jan Null, adjunct professor at San Francisco State University, “Children have died in cars with the temperature as low as 63 degrees. Basically, the car becomes a greenhouse. At 70 degrees on a sunny day, after a half hour, the temperature inside a car is 104 degrees. After an hour, it can reach 113 degrees.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that “the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172.” A 2005 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that “it makes very little difference whether a car’s windows are closed or partially open. In both cases, a car’s interior temperature can rise approximately 40 degrees within one hour, even when the exterior temperature is only 72°F.”
Summer is the time of year when you should get out and enjoy life, making memories you’ll cherish when the days grow short and the winter winds start to howl. But enjoyment depends first and foremost on health and safety. At Wellbeing Coaches, we wish you both, especially during these dog days of August.
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All information contained on this website are for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be taken as medical or other health advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or a qualified medical professional. IN THE CASE OF A MEDICAL EMERGENCY OR SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, IMMEDIATELY CALL 911.
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