“I’m sorry I’m late Dr. Tummala,” a patient tells me at the start of a recent clinic appointment. Smiling with what I hope is a look of understanding, I brush off her apology. I have come to know this patient over many years and am well aware that she is apologizing for something that is not her fault. Using a walker for support, she takes three different modes of public transportation and braves the elements — whether it’s rain, snow or sweltering heat — to get to her clinic visits.
While snow and rain pose their own challenges, outdoor heat exposure is hard to escape, even with a hat, water, and lightweight clothing. While thoughts of summer may conjure up images of pools, beaches and vacations, what we often forget is that outdoor heat exposure is a major health risk that goes far beyond sunburns.
Daily headlines reflect the reality of ongoing heat waves this summer, from the first-ever excessive heat warning issued in Colorado to the drought conditions in the western US. The last decade was the hottest on record and off-the-chart heat indexes are a real concern in the coming decades. These heat patterns come as no surprise. For decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm on global warming, which is contributing to changes in sea level, loss of sea ice, and yes, longer and more intense heat waves.