Those last hot, sultry days of summer seem to go on forever. The air is heavy and motionless, pregnant with the promise of rain, which seldom arrives.
The term “Dog Days” dates back to Greek times. Sirius, the dog star, was prominent in the heavens during late summer a millennium or two ago, and was believed responsible for the awful weather.
Because of celestial mechanics over the last several thousand years, Sirius is no longer seen near the sunrise in late summer, but for some reason, the name Dog Days and the weather remain.
According to John Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, it’s described this way: “The Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid, causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysteric and phrensies.”
There are real problems from all that steamy weather. People shed heat most effectively by sweating. Sweat evaporates, and reduces body temperature.
The same mechanism occurs on your stove: When you boil water, you convert liquid water to steam (vapor water) by adding heat. That heat is taken away from your body when the sweat evaporates. Trouble is, there’s not much evaporation going on with 90% humidity! And rivers of sweat only look good in boathouses.
Heat-related illness is more common during the last steamy days of summer. With the temperature not as high as it is during June, July, and August people are not expecting heat exhaustion, and make hydration less of a priority. The high humidity more than makes up for slightly lower temperatures in challenging your heat dissipation skills.
Now make all this happen at a late summer outdoor music festival, add Ecstasy or its newer, stronger cousin – Molly – and you have the perfect storm.
Ecstasy causes motion, nonstop hyperkinetic motion (phrensies anyone?). Hyperpyrexia (extreme heat generation) is a common side effect of the drug. Sweat still doesn’t evaporate, so bodies in motion sometimes get hot enough to cook themselves. A core body temperature of 106 degrees is not uncommon, and is often fatal.
Lesser miseries also inhabit the Dog Days: food-borne illness is common in late summer. The degree Fahrenheit number is less extreme, so food temperature gets less attention. Food spent near body temperature grows bacteria the fastest. Those are the ambient temperatures of the season. Get a good dose of food poisoning and you will feel like a dog.
All that heat and humidity also impacts your sleep, diet and energy level. If feeling like a slug isn’t bad enough, it’s easier to catch the first infectious disease that walks by in late summer.
Our immune readiness depends heavily on the stuff that mom told us to do: Get a good night’s sleep, balanced diet, plenty of fresh air and exercise.
The Dog Days of Summer are with us again. And while the almanacs tell us late August should be the end of it, they apparently haven’t visited Phoenix recently. It’s 104 degrees today and the only bright thing in sight was a rainbow I saw this morning while dropping off my daughter (in the rain).
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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