Now that the first heat wave of the summer is moving through the Northeast, we will soon be hearing about heat-related deaths in our major cities. Yet, since man evolved in the tropics, we are equipped with efficient mechanisms for heat dissipation, primarily through our skin and lungs. And, except for those who venture out unprepared, we rarely hear about heat-induced deaths in desert regions, where human and animal inhabitants have learned to retreat to caves, burrows, rock shelters and other oases during the heat of the day.
Indeed, heat-related deaths are far more common in our modern cities, where the brick and concrete radiate heat throughout the day and night and where numerous frail and elderly persons live in cramped, uncooled and poorly ventilated apartments. And then there are the macho deaths, generally induced by zealous drill sergeants and football coaches, who force their recruits to exercise in the mid-day sun.
Most of us can easily prevent heat-related illness by drinking plenty of water, avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol, dressing in loose, light-colored clothing and limiting strenuous, outdoor activity to the early morning and evening hours. The elderly and those with chronic disease need to be especially cautious in hot weather; our body's cooling system, as efficient as it is, can place a significant strain on the heart.