Surviving a Heat Wave: Your Safety & Strategy Guide

a man standing in the sun with a green towel around his shouldersClimate change is creating some of the hottest temperatures on record. In many parts of the globe, the heat is excessive and can be life-threatening. No country or its population is safe from this heat.

During the summer of 2019, record high temperatures of up to 115°F (46°C) blasted Europe. This heat wave was responsible for making many people go to the hospital and thousands of unfortunate deaths. In France alone, the heat wave caused 1,500 people to die. In the rest of Europe, thousands more than normal died, which healthcare officials attribute to exposure to excessive heat.

The Dangers of Heatwaves

The dangers of heatwaves include many adverse effects on the body that include sunburn, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. This list starts with things like sunburn and heat rash that cause discomfort. More serious is heat exhaustion that causes the inability to function properly, and then heatstroke, which may cause permanent disability or death.

Dangerous Heat

a thermometer displaying 108 degrees FWhen the outside temperature reaches 115°F (46°C) or more, it is dangerous for those who are vulnerable, such as infants, the disabled, and the elderly. Even healthy young adults can suffer from heatstroke when trying to work outside in such heat. There are many examples of athletes who collapsed and died of heatstroke while practicing or playing sports. Soldiers in boot camp training may die of heat exposure as well.

Relativity Humidity

Hot, humid air feels much hotter than hot dry air. This happens because when the air is filled with water, it makes it more difficult for a human body to release heat via perspiration. The body’s internal temperature increases and sweat stays on the skin without evaporating properly.

People with serious and chronic illnesses are more vulnerable. Symptoms of these diseases may increase in dangerous ways by exposure to excessive heat.

Heatstroke

For the very young and the elderly, heatstroke may be deadly. Infants may cry uncontrollably, which makes dehydration get worse. Elderly people may not ask for assistance and not know what is going wrong.

Mild heatstroke that many athletes experience, causes a young healthy person to feel dizzy. Normally, if they sit down when they first feel the problem and get their body to cool down, drink water with electrolytes in it, then the problem will naturally dissipate within ten to twenty minutes. When the athlete feels better and can stand up without bringing on the dizziness, they have recovered.

Severe heatstroke is very dangerous and may be life-threatening. There is a danger of being harmed when passing out. Some people have passed out from heatstroke and fallen down the stairs, breaking their bones in the fall. Elderly people, especially women, can easily break a hip this way. Babies can die of heatstroke very quickly. Animals as well.

Excessive heat that causes heatstroke can damage internal organs and cause additional problems besides just passing out. A person may have a seizure.

A heatstroke may trigger a brain stroke. As the inner temperature of the body rises, a blood clot that formed in the legs or elsewhere can dislodge and flow up to the brain causing a brain stroke. A brain stroke may cause permanent damage. Additionally, the heart is especially vulnerable to overheating.

Heart Attack

a man with his hand against his chestHeatstroke can be confused with the symptoms associated with a heart attack. It can also cause a heart attack. The blood may not circulate properly when a person is experiencing excessive temperatures. Dehydration, along with electrolyte loss, adds to the problem.

A person who collapses in the hot sun may experience heatstroke and a heart attack at the same time so it is safer to assume the worst condition and call 911 for help.

Heat-related illnesses include sunburn, heat rash, and heatstroke. They each have their own different symptoms that you need to be familiar with. When the weather gets hot, keep these in mind:

Sunburn

The symptoms of sunburn are red skin color that is sensitive to the touch. Severe sunburn results in skin peeling and blisters.

Heat Rash

This rash is made up of red tiny blisters that are itchy. It can appear on the arms, underarms, neck area, legs, groin, and face. It may start in one area and then spread to another.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke, if it comes on suddenly, can surprise an otherwise healthy person. They may collapse without any warning signs. Others may experience symptoms that include dizziness, lack of being able to concentrate, double vision, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Heatstroke can cause a person to pass out and to go into convulsions.

Increase Air Circulation in Your Home

a close-up photo of a pedestal fanIntense exterior heat combined with a lack of wind intensifies the feeling of the temperature. Breezes and air passing over the skin from wind have a cooling effect. This is why it feels cooler to sit inside your home in front of a box fan.

An unconventional fan that can cool down a home siginificantly is the attic fan. During a normal summer, an attic can easily get to be 150° inside, and even hotter during a heat wave. Running an attic fan during the summer can reduce the temperature in the attic by 10-25°. This reduced heat helps slow the transfer of the heat into the home’s living space, making it easier for your air conditioner or other fans to cool the rest of the home. It also improves the lifespan of your roof and shingles.

If you want to create a breeze through your home, window fans are the way to go. If you have two, you can place one on each end of the home. Set one to intake and the other to exhaust, and you’ll immediately create a noticable breeze. This is just one great way you can use window fans.

Whole room fans, pedestal fans, tower fans, and ceiling fans are great for cooling just one area, and most people already own one of these fans. If you’re getting hot, any fan can help cool you down. Even if all you have is a small desk fan or an unconventional garage fan, set it up and turn it on.

The air temperature itself is not lowered by a ventilator fan. It only passes air over the skin and this increases evaporation through sweating so that a person feels cooler. Using fans is one way to help prevent heat-related illnesses. Air conditioning that circulates cool air and keeps the room temperature comfortable is best, but if you don’t have an AC unit, fans do a great job of cooling down a home.

Stay Hydrated

a woman drinking water in the sunAnother contributing factor that intensifies the discomfort of high temperatures comes from when a person is dehydrated. When a person’s body does not have sufficient water on board, then that person is much more likely to have problems with high heat.

The cells in the body need water to function properly. This is why it is important to drink plenty of cool (not cold) water when outside in the sun.

Electrolyte Imbalance

Along with dehydration, the minerals that the body needs to sustain itself properly, called electrolytes, can get out of balance. Electrolytes include things like salt (sodium), potassium, and magnesium. If the heat causes a person to sweat profusely, the body’s minerals become depleted. This is why sports drinks include electrolytes to both rehydrate a person and restore the proper mineral balance.

How Much Water is Enough?

To calculate the water you should drink daily, use the formula of your weight times two-thirds and express this number in ounces of water. For example, if you weigh 150 lb, two-thirds is 100 lb, so the minimum water intake each day should be about 100 ounces. This is eight 12-ounce glasses.

If you are going to be physically active, then drink much more. Also, be aware that you may become dehydrated before you get thirsty.

Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine

Alcoholic drinks and drinks that contain caffeine are both diuretics that remove water from the body. These can dehydrate you, so drink pure water with electrolytes instead. One of the worst things you can do is drink lots of ice-cold beer, which runs right through the system taking all the helpful electrolytes with it when you go to the bathroom.

To stay hydrated, always drink plenty of fluids. Babies should be give bottled water that contains electrolytes in the proper formulation for infants. Adults and children should drink bottled water, take mineral supplements, and/or drink sports drinks that contain electrolytes.

Avoid Direct Sunlight and Stay Cool

Here are some tips to get less sun exposure and to help your home stay cooler.

When inside, take these extra precautions:

  • a hand closing window blinds on a sunny dayStay hydrated by drinking plenty of water with electrolytes
  • Use air conditioning
  • Use ventilator fans that can be put in a place that blows airs on the people in the room
  • Use remote control ceiling fans to move the air about in a room
  • Use ventilation fans in the attic to remove heat from the home
  • Cover the windows with heat-blocking shades or UV-blocking glass treatments
  • Close drapes and blinds to keep a home cooler
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes
  • When feeling distressed, sit down in the coolest part of the house
  • Use a cold compress on the back of the neck and an ice pack on the forehead
  • Sit in a bathtub filled with cool water

When outside, take these extra precautions:

  • Wear a hat, UV-blocking sunglasses, and light-colored loose-fitting clothes
  • Stay in the shade
  • Use sunscreen because a sunburn makes the skin feel hotter
  • Carry an umbrella to block the sun
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible
  • Frequently, take a break and sit down
  • Do not try to lift anything heavy
  • Avoid going upstairs
  • Stay off of hot asphalt
  • Stay out of hot cars

It is very important never to leave a child or pet in a car unattended. If you need to drive when it is hot outside, if possible, cool down the interior of the car with its air conditioning before driving it. Otherwise, park the car in the shade and open all the windows to dissipate as much interior heat before driving. If you do not have air-conditioning, leave all the windows down when driving to let the air flow through the vehicle.

Change Your Diet

Avoid large protein-heavy meals because they take a longer time to digest and raise the body’s temperature. Eat foods with high water content. Try to avoid icy drinks because they cause the body temperature to rise to offset the cold.

Foods to Enjoy

a piece of grilled salmon on a plate with a saladThings to eat during a heat wave include salmon and eggs, which contain the amino acid tryptophan that helps a person sleep well. Enjoy lots of salads with leafy greens like romaine lettuce and fresh raw spinach, along with chopped celery and slices of cool cucumber. These vegetables are high in moisture content.

Other fruits that are good to eat are watermelons are strawberries, oranges, and pineapples. Instead of using ice cubes to put in drinks toss in a few frozen seedless grapes to make the drinks cool but not icy cold.

Eat spicy hot foods because even though this is counter-intuitive they make the body perspire more, which helps cool you down. This is why in the very warm temperatures found in India they like to eat fiery hot curries. Having a hot drink causes the same effect. Try caffeine-free drinks like hot peppermint tea.

Foods to Avoid

Avoid cold things like ice cream because they have the opposite effect of hot spicy foods. The trigger the body to get warmer to offset the cold. Do not eat mangoes, artichokes, asparagus, or fennel. Like alcohol and caffeine, they are all diuretics that cause the body to lose water and reduce hydration. Eat less or no meat. Meat is more challenging for the body to digest and causes a phenomenon called thermogenesis, which makes the body get warmer when digesting it. Be sure to get enough protein from vegetable sources and eggs instead.

Remember Your Pets

a puppy drinking water out of someone's handPets need extra care when it is hot outside. Never leave a pet in a parked car. Even on an overcast day, the interior of a car can get up to 120-125°F (35-40°C) in a few minutes. This happens even if the windows are opened slightly at the top. There is no air circulation in a parked car and it quickly becomes an oven that can kill any pet that is left inside. If you see a pet locked in a hot car, call 911 for help. If necessary, break into the car to save the animal.

Always make sure pets have plenty of cool water to drink. Make sure they have access to a cool environment and can get out of the sun. The worst thing that can be done to a dog is to chain them up outside in the hot sun and leave them without water. That is animal abuse and cruelty. Do not do this. Put dogs in the shade and make sure they always have water.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion in Pets

Dogs will pant and breath heavily when trying to cool down. Other symptoms of heat exhaustion are excessive drooling, dizziness, fever, unusual-colored gums, lack of urine, rapid pulse, muscle tremors, lethargy, and vomiting, diarrhea.

Treating Heat Exhaustion in Pets

If the pet is in serious distress, take them to a veterinarian immediately. Take the pet to a cooler area. Inside the home, in an air-conditioned room, is best. Give them water to drink that is cool, not cold. Wet them down with cool, not cold, water. Use damp washcloths to cool them down under the neck, the head, face, and behind the ears. Let them sit in front of a fan to dry off

Conclusion

a woman sitting on a sofa in front of a desk fanNo matter where you live, you are probably going to experience more hot days than before, and they may be hotter than ever. Everyone should learn the warning signs of heatstroke and be able to recognize them and know what to do to help someone or themselves experiencing it.

The need to be aware of the dangers of high temperatures is becoming critical in many parts of the world. The human body is not able to withstand being subject to high heat for extended periods when it is not used to those temperatures. Use the suggested techniques to stay cool in the face of ever-increasing heat waves to avoid being harmed or killed by them.