Summer Heat

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As one of the external causes of disease, Summer Heat is less common in cool countries.

It nearly always arises from over-exposure to heat or the sun so is more common when people from cool climates don't know how to handle hot climates. 

But you can also get signs of Summer Heat in people (especially old people) who have been subjected to extremely long periods of Heat.

Symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Severe thirst
  • Irritability,
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or shallow breathing
  • Head feels heavy
  • Headaches
  • Complexion is ‘dirty’
  • Either offensive urgent diarrhoea or ‘dried-up’ constipation
  • Mouth feels parched: thirst
  • Restless
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden fainting (eg heat-stroke)
  • Pulse is fast, over-flowing, full
  • Tongue is red

People from temperate countries, unaware of the danger of exposing themselves to extreme sun-heat, may inadvertently suffer from this syndrome while on holiday.

Summer Heat is a dangerous condition, not least because of the loss of fluids from diarrhoea.

Modern drugs that prevent diarrhoea are not regarded as beneficial in Chinese medicine, because they suppress the body's attempt to externalise the heat by purging itself.

(Purging? Not very pleasant, but this is basically your body forcing the heat and poison out of its gastro-intestinal tract by increasing the frequency and sometimes volume of your bowel movements. In other words, it makes you get the 'shits'. Its effect is cooling. Of course, if it goes on for too long without improvement, it can be deadly, like dysentery.)

Suppressing this natural solution to Summer Heat can lead either to latent heat or heat in the Blood, with symptoms such as rashes and aggressive, loud or manic behaviour.

Tracing the source of such symptoms may not be easy when their onset could follow the original exposure to Summer Heat only after many months or even years.

I once had a patient who had for years suffered from headaches, sweating, frequent diarrhoea and a feeling of faintness or weakness. She was in her forties and, in spite of impressive qualifications and evident abilities, had never been able to take the strain of senior job responsibility.

She had sought treatment from a huge range of health professionals, including many eminent consultants and even psychiatrists.

After considerable discussion, it emerged that she had suffered from a severe fever and had nearly died when on holiday aged around 8. It was the first time her parents had taken a foreign holiday and they took her to Southern Spain in August.

Though both her parents were dead by the time she visited me, an elder sibling remembered the holiday, though not much about the patient being ill at the time, more, he thought, ill when they got home.

Anyhow, on somewhat flimsy evidence I surmised that she was still suffering from the after-effects of summer heat and based my treatments on that diagnosis.

Clearing the Heat took some time and quite a few treatments. Knowing more now, I realise that I should have managed to get her better faster, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!

At any rate, she did greatly improve. She took a senior position in a large company which promptly whisked her off to a different country and I never saw her again.

The improvement led me to believe that my diagnosis was probably correct.

What does Chinese medicine do about Summer Heat?

In dealing with the very unpleasant and potentially dangerous symptoms of Summer-Heat, the usual approach, having diagnosed the condition, is to treat the patient so as to 'cool' the Heat in the Blood, often also by allowing the body to purge itself - safely.

To avoid purging from weakening the body, acupuncture and/or herbs are given to help restore its yin/yang and Blood/Qi balance.

If herbs are taken, they are very cooling, so not usually beneficial if taken for too long. But when given as part of a Chinese herbal formula, other warming herbs might be given at the same time to prevent the Yang Qi of the Stomach. Getting the balance right can take some skill and experience.

If you are suffering from Summer-Heat symptoms, get help: you are probably too ill to work out what to do for yourself!

Also, although this is a 'Hot' condition, take care not to eat too much  - indeed, try to avoid - raw, chilled, iced or cold food or drink. Although cooling, they may cool your Stomach energy down more than your Blood Heat, and pass through you without nourishing you. In that case, although eating, you lose energy faster.

If you did eat the wrong - cold-type - foods too much, you could find yourself in the curious and unpleasant position of having no Qi, no Yang (so you feel cold and exhausted) but still having Heat in your Blood!

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