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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

7 Tips for Avoiding Summer Heat Illness

By: Joseph Oppedisano

Getting sick during the summer can have a major impact on our “fun in the sun.”  But just like with flu and cold season in the winter, the summer also carries with it the potential for illness. Within Chinese medicine, there is one such illness that is solely seen in the summer season. It is aptly called Summer Heat. While anyone can develop Summer Heat, younger children, the elderly, or those with an already weaker constitution are especially susceptible to it.

But first, lets define Summer Heat. To practitioners of Chinese medicine, Summer Heat involves the “invasion” of a yang pathogen that consumes the body’s qi and yin fluids. This causes the qi and fluids to move upward and out of the body (for example, as sweat and heat). In practice, Summer Heat may resemble the flu as typical signs include the sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea, alternating fever and chills, irritability, headache, and urine that is darker in color than normal. In more severe cases, Summer Heat can also cause dizziness, delirium, slurred speech, and/or a loss of consciousness.

Within the Western medical world, Summer Heat can cover what a physician would diagnose as sunstroke or heat exhaustion. However, it’s important to note that the Chinese medical definition of Summer Heat is not simply a direct one-to-one translation to Western illnesses.  So while it may include sunstroke or heat exhaustion, Summer Heat also covers a wider array of symptoms and causes than any Western counterpart. The good news is that your chances of developing Summer Heat are drastically reduced by employing some simple yet effective dietary and lifestyle precautions.

Here are a few simple tips to help you and those around you avoid or treat Summer Heat.

1. Children under six or individuals over sixty, those who are extremely overweight, or those who have a weakened immune system should take extra care. These groups are more susceptible to getting Summer Heat and the effects can be quite debilitating.

2. Incorporate foods of a “cooling” nature into your diet. These include barley, mung beans, coconut milk, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables such as kiwis, apples, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, pears, pineapple, and tangerines. Especially beneficial is watermelon (either whole or freshlyjuiced). For tea drinkers, green tea is an excellent option. These foods are ideal for nourishing the body and helping to manage the effects of increased heat and sun exposure.

3. Avoid caffeine and alcohol (or at least keep it to a minimum) when spending significant timein the sun.

4. Conversely, avoid foods that are actually ice cold (in temperature). Ice cream, ice-cold beverages, and the like will actually contribute to the potential of developing Summer Heat. Combining cold foods and beverages with exposure to activities that introduce cold to the exterior of the body, such as swimming in ice-cold water, taking an ice-cold shower, or entering an extremely cold room, is also a sure-fire way to trigger Summer Heat.

5. Avoid spending excessive amounts of time in direct sun without staying hydrated with cooling and hydrating beverages. As mentioned above, green teas and watermelon juice are considered especially beneficial for avoiding and/or treating summer heat.

6. Don’t overdo it with strenuous outdoor activities. Unless you are a prime athlete, don’t push yourself beyond your limits during outdoor time. Pace yourself, take regular breaks to hydrate, and get some shade; basically, just be aware of your limits.

7. In the event of a Summer Heat invasion, treatments include drinking plenty of fluids, especially ones that include electrolytes (fennel tea is extremely beneficial in the treatment of Summer Heat), get yourself out of direct sun, and apply ice packs to the upper back/neck area to lower body temperature. If symptoms persist or even worsen, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, there’s never a guarantee for avoiding illness. But making some simple lifestyle and dietary adjustments throughout the season will dramatically reduce your chances of getting sick. This will help to make sure you get the most from your favorite summertime activities!

Joseph Oppedisano is a licensed and certified acupuncturist who’s work consists of sixteen years at NYU School of Medicine and two years working for the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in education and student services. Joseph relocated from New York City to Eau Claire in the summer of 2015 where he promptly re-established his clinical and teaching practice. 

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