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Strategies to Stay Safe and Beat the Heat During a Heat Wave

by Madison Thomas
6 comments
heat wave safety

With intense heat causing over a dozen fatalities in Texas and increasing discomfort for millions from the Pacific Northwest to the South, it’s vital to know how to protect yourself as summer temperatures continue to rise. As the heat wave expands eastward, this guide will help you navigate the blistering temperatures safely.

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WHY SHOULD WE BE WARY OF EXTREME HEAT?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, extreme heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S., claiming more lives than tornadoes or floods. Yet, most heat-related deaths are preventable with proper outreach and intervention.

“Heat is a silent menace. It’s often overlooked,” said Ben Zaitchik, a professor and climate scientist at Johns Hopkins University. “With increasing global temperatures, even without specific weather events like the one in Texas, we’re experiencing unfamiliar heat levels, which poses a risk in itself.”

Sweating is the body’s way of cooling down, but extreme heat can disrupt this process, leading to dangerous conditions such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, organ failure, or even death.

At particular risk are older adults, young children, and those with chronic illnesses like diabetes. However, healthy individuals aren’t exempt from risks, cautioned Ashley Ward, director of the Heat Policy Innovation Hub at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability. The heat can be detrimental to people who work or exercise outdoors, homeless individuals, or those without effective air conditioning.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS?

Heat stroke signs include body temperature of 103 degrees or higher, nausea, headaches, thirst, and a rapid, strong heartbeat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that heat stroke is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention by dialing 911.

Heat exhaustion symptoms encompass heavy sweating, muscle cramps, dizziness, vomiting, and cold, pale, or clammy skin. If these symptoms persist or worsen over an hour, the CDC recommends seeking medical attention.

HOW TO STAY COOL WITHOUT AIR CONDITIONING?

Even a few hours in an air-conditioned environment can help your body cool down when returning to the heat, the CDC advises. Public air-conditioned spaces, like libraries or shopping malls, can provide relief.

Keep windows covered and lights off during the day, avoiding heat-generating appliances like stoves or ovens. In dry regions, hang wet towels to cool the room.

If temperatures drop at night, keep windows and shutters open for circulation.

Ward suggests innovative solutions if air conditioning isn’t available. Sitting in front of a fan after a cool bath or shower or soaking feet and arms in cool water can help. If you only have one fan, prioritize creating a cool sleeping space.

WHAT TO DO WHEN OUTDOORS?

Maintain hydration and avoid waiting till you’re thirsty to drink. Limit direct sunlight exposure by staying shaded and wearing protective gear such as sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.

Outdoor workers could periodically soak their shirts in cool water. Homeless individuals should connect with local shelters for information about temporary cooling centers.

SHOULD I BE CONCERNED ABOUT BURN INJURIES?

Burn centers in Arizona and Nevada warn against injuries from contact with overheated roads and other surfaces. These injuries may occur if someone collapses from dehydration or heat stroke, but touching hot surfaces like car seats or poolside concrete can also cause burns. Caution is needed when touching hot items like metal door handles or seat belt buckles, or exiting a pool.

HOW TO PROTECT PETS?

Plan outdoor walks during cooler hours and use breathable shoes to protect your pets’ paws. Pets should have indoor shelter and shade when outdoors.

“A doghouse isn’t shade, it’s an oven,” warns Ward. Pets should never be left in a hot car.


This article has been updated to accurately represent the Duke University Institute’s name, the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability, and to correct Ashley Ward’s title as the director of the Heat Policy Innovation Hub at the Institute.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about heat wave safety

Why is extreme heat considered dangerous?

Extreme heat is a leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S., even more than tornadoes or floods. Extreme temperatures can disrupt the body’s ability to cool itself down through sweating, which can lead to serious conditions such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, organ failure, or even death. While older adults, young children, and those with chronic illnesses like diabetes are particularly vulnerable, healthy individuals can also be affected.

What are the symptoms of heat-related illnesses?

Signs of heat stroke include a body temperature of 103 degrees or higher, nausea, headaches, intense thirst, and a rapid, strong heartbeat. Heat exhaustion symptoms can include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, dizziness, vomiting, and skin that is cold, pale, or clammy. Both these conditions require medical attention, and in the case of heat stroke, immediate emergency response is advised.

How can I stay cool without air conditioning?

Utilizing public air-conditioned spaces, keeping windows covered and lights off during the day, avoiding the use of heat-generating appliances, hanging wet towels to cool a room in dry areas, and keeping windows open for air circulation at night can help. Other solutions include sitting in front of a fan after a cool bath or shower or soaking feet and arms in cool water.

What precautions should be taken when outdoors during a heat wave?

It’s essential to maintain hydration and limit direct sun exposure by staying in the shade and wearing protective gear such as sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. Outdoor workers can soak their shirts in cool water periodically, and homeless individuals should connect with local shelters for temporary cooling center information.

How can I protect my pets in a heat wave?

Pets’ outdoor walks should be planned for cooler hours, and their paws should be protected with breathable shoes. Pets should be given shelter indoors and shade when outdoors. Pets should never be left in a hot car.

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6 comments

GreenWarrior July 1, 2023 - 12:27 am

Another reason we gotta fight climate change, too many heatwaves and it’s just getting worse. sigh. We got work to do.

Reply
FitForLife July 1, 2023 - 7:45 am

omg its crazy how many ppl forget to drink enough water when its hot. dehydration is no joke guys. hydrate hydrate hydrate!

Reply
Mike247 July 1, 2023 - 12:26 pm

Awesome guide guys, stayin cool aint easy these days! Watch out for the pets too, they can’t tell us when they’re too hot!

Reply
BusyMomof3 July 1, 2023 - 2:09 pm

whew, its brutal out there. i’ve been freezing wet washcloths for the kids to cool down. this heat wave needs to end soon.

Reply
JessInTheCity July 1, 2023 - 5:45 pm

good advice! Didn’t even think about how dangerous heat can be. gotta make sure my elderly neighbor is okay, she doesn’t have AC…

Reply
PetLover98 July 1, 2023 - 7:27 pm

Those poor animals, people need to understand that hot asphalt can really burn their paws! Walk them in the morning or evening instead.

Reply

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