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How To Stay Cool And Safe During A Heat Wave
Climate Change

How To Stay Cool And Safe During A Heat Wave

It's getting hot outside, and the temperature isn't the only thing that's rising.

Heat-related illnesses have become more common as temperatures have risen, making it more difficult for the human body to naturally cool down in order to avoid injury or death, according to health officials.

Heat waves have become more common in the contiguous United States over the last several decades, increasing from an average of two per year in major cities to more than six and lasting longer than ever before, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and extreme summer temperatures have also increased throughout the Southwest over the last 20 years.

If you haven't already felt the heat, climate projections for the next several decades indicate that you will, so here are some tips on how to stay safe and cool when the temperatures are anything but.

What to See and Do

During the hottest part of the day, stay in air-conditioned buildings.

If your home lacks air conditioning or there is no power, which can occur during peak electrical demand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends spending time in indoor public places such as shopping malls or public libraries.

During periods of extreme heat, local health departments frequently set up heat-relief shelters, also known as cooling centers; contact your local government or health officials for assistance in locating one.

If you can't find AC, officials recommend taking a cold shower, bath, or sponge bath to lower your body temperature. Keep extra ice in the freezer to cool damp towels you can apply to your skin. If you're using a garden hose to cool down, just be aware of the water's temperature, which the Las Vegas Fire Department warns can reach 140 degrees in extreme heat, before spraying it on a peach.

DYK: That water inside a garden hose can reach 140 degrees during Extreme Heat, which is hot enough to burn the skin on children and pets. Allow water to flow until cool before spraying people or pets pic.twitter.com/tYtmtzSp27 — Las Vegas FireRescue (@LasVegasFD) June 14, 2021

Forewarning: An electric fan is not the same as air conditioning and will not prevent heat-related illness when temperatures are in the 90s or higher; in fact, studies have shown that a fan can make things worse if the air temperature is higher than your body temperature or there is low humidity.

Stay in the shade and take frequent water breaks if you must be outside, which should be limited to the morning and evening.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's website provides extensive guidelines on how to reduce workplace heat stress, including advice on indoor facility designs, worker training, clothing, acclimatization, hydration methods, and rest breaks for those who work in extreme heat.

How to Dress

Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, a brimmed hat, and sunscreen, which should be reapplied as directed on the package, according to health officials.

What You Should Eat And Drink

During hot weather, it's especially important to drink plenty of water, even if you don't feel thirsty or if your activity level is low, because the human body sweats to cool off, so your natural cooling system requires a steady supply of H20 to function properly.

“Everyone thinks they drink enough water to stay hydrated, but in reality, most people don’t,” David Ramirez, a public information officer with the Phoenix Fire Department, told Stardia, noting that the majority of medical calls in the summer, when Phoenix’s average temperatures can reach 110 degrees, are for heat-related illnesses.

Stay hydrated in this extreme heat by using this chart to determine how much water you should drink. #CAwx #BeatTheHeat pic.twitter.com/SzCidtESMo — SacramentoOES (@SacramentoOES) September 1, 2017

“If you’re thirsty, you’re most likely already dehydrated, so drink water consistently throughout the day and night, especially if you’re planning on doing outdoor activities,” Ramirez said, adding that such activities in extreme temperatures “we highly do not recommend.”


The Red Cross recommends that you eat small meals and snacks throughout the day, as well as drink plenty of water, to maintain electrolytes and replace salt lost through sweat. If you're exercising or working outside in the heat, fruit juice or a sports beverage can also help recover salt and minerals lost through sweat.

Avoid beverages with added sugar, caffeine, or alcohol, which cause fluid loss in the body, as well as heavy foods, especially those high in salt, which can dehydrate.

Pool Safety is a must.

According to the CDC, drownings are the leading cause of “unintentional injury death” in children ages 1 to 14. If a swimming pool is available to cool off in, Ramirez advises designating an adult to keep an eye on the children.

“Here in the valley, we have a huge problem with drownings during the summer,” Ramirez explained. “Some adults think the other adults are watching the kids, and before you know it... something fatal happens.”

What to Do If You Get Sick From Heat?

According to the National Weather Service, heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, claiming hundreds of lives each year.

If you notice signs of heatstroke, the most serious heat-related illness, seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms include a high body temperature, a strong or racing pulse, hot, dry skin or profuse sweating, a headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness.

According to the CDC, if someone exhibits symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as a headache, nausea, dizziness, heavy sweating, or a rapid or weak pulse, help them cool down and seek medical attention if their symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.

Moving someone to a shady area or indoors, preferably into an air-conditioned room, can help them cool down. If available, provide a cool, not cold, bath or shower. Sponging with cool water also helps, as does cooling them with a garden hose, but check the water temperature first.

Ramirez recommended dialing 911 if in doubt.

“You never know what’s going on with your body internally,” he said, adding that dehydration can make it difficult to think clearly. “Just call 911 and whatever fire department is in your area will come and check you out.”

Some People Are More Vulnerable Than Others


According to the CDC, adults over the age of 65, children under the age of four, and people who take certain medications or have medical conditions such as heart disease are more likely to suffer from heat-related illness.

Children, in particular, are more susceptible to heatstroke, with their body temperatures rising three to five times faster than an adult's, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which warns against leaving a child unattended in a car due to the lethal speed at which vehicles heat up.

To avoid an accident, make it a habit to inspect your entire vehicle, front and back, before locking the door and walking away.

“Look before you lock,” Ramirez advised. “Take a look in your backseat before you get out of the vehicle, maybe put your purse and your belongings that you're going to need in the backseat next to your child” so you have to look there before you leave the vehicle.

Don't forget to check on friends and neighbors who may be suffering from heat-related illness.

“We have a lot of elderly people who live alone, and unfortunately, sometimes their AC goes out, and [they] don’t have landlines anymore; they have a cell phone but don’t really know how to use it,” Ramirez explained.

Maintain the Safety of Your Pets as Well

Make sure your pets have plenty of fresh water both inside and outside in a shady area. Outdoors, tree shade or tarp shade are ideal because they don't obstruct airflow. According to the Humane Society of the United States, a dog house can actually trap heat and be harmful to a pet.

Animals, like children, should never be left in a car unattended, even if the windows are cracked open for a few minutes. Temperatures inside a car can rise nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the first 10 minutes, even with a window cracked, according to the CDC. Some states allow car windows to be broken to rescue a trapped pet or child.

Also, be aware of the temperatures of hard-surfaced roads and sidewalks, which absorb the sun's heat and can burn pets' paws. According to Ramirez, such injuries frequently occur when dog walkers visit a location that is hotter than they are accustomed to or when temperatures are exceptionally hot, catching them off guard.

“We've seen it time and time again where dogs will burn the pad on their paws, giving them second- or third-degree burns,” he explained.

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