This summer has been incredibly hot world-wide. When I read of the weather-related illness and deaths, it greatly saddens me. The last week in July the world’s first named heat wave hit Seville, Spain. ‘Zoe’ pushed temperatures past 110 degrees Fahrenheit and earned the most severe tier in the city’s new heat wave ranking system. If you don’t know what to do to protect yourself in extreme heat, let’s talk.
Drink plenty of water
Drinking plenty of water is one of the most important things you can do to prevent heat-related illness. First, the human body is about 60% water by weight. The percentage varies by age. An infant is about 75% water while a senior citizen is 55%. Without water people can only survive for a few days. Water is the most important nutrient in your body. Research indicates that all aspects of your bodily functioning are affected by hydration. Did you know that dehydration can cause more than just thirst and dry lips? It can also set your heart racing and make you feel light-headed and dizzy.
“Dehydrated” simply means your body doesn’t have enough water. How do you know if you’re low on water? When you are thirsty, you’re already low. If you are fully hydrated, you should need to pee every 2 or 3 waking hours. Another indication is the color of your urine. If a person is not taking medication (which can often change the color of urine), then a hydrated person’s urine should be light yellow. Avoid alcoholic beverages and liquids high in sugar or caffeine as they dehydrate you. Falling short on hydration is linked to problems with brain function, belly fat, heart health, blood sugar and more. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stave off any “thirsty” mood swings. For more information on what dehydration means see What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Drink Enough Water.
Eat well-balanced, light, regular meals
Avoid using your oven to help reduce the temperature in your home. In general, eating meals and snacks throughout the day with adequate water intake is enough to maintain electrolytes and replace salt lost when you sweat. Eat light meals such as salads, sandwiches, vegetables, and fruit. If you’ve never made it, try gazpacho, a cold blended vegetable soup made with fresh vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers.
Slow down and avoid strenuous activity
Cut down on exercise during a heat wave. Limit outdoor activity to early morning or evening. Stay inside during the hottest part of the day (10 A.M to 4 P.M.) and limit time outside in the sun. Avoid strenuous activity and postpone outdoor games and events. Young children, those who are sick, and the elderly are most susceptible to heat-related illnesses. However, anyone can suffer from a heat-related illness if they over-exert themselves or simply don’t take extreme heat warnings seriously. While extreme cold is also dangerous, heat waves become life-threatening more quickly if proper precautions are not taken. In recent years, excessive heat has caused more deaths than all other weather events, including floods.
Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing
Light colors reflect heat and sunlight, and help maintain normal body temperature. Wear natural fiber clothing like cotton and linen. Put sophisticated black outfits to the back of your closet and wear loose light colors like pastels.
When you’re outdoors, make sure you stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Wear a hat or even carry an umbrella. Wear sunscreen!
Stay in an air-conditioned place
Stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. If you do not have air conditioning at home, go somewhere air conditioned. Visit libraries, malls, or stores during the afternoon heat.
Set your air conditioners to a lower temperature and use curtains or blinds to keep direct sunlight out. If A/C is not available, stay indoors on the lowest floor in a well-ventilated area. Keep shades and blinds closed. If you don’t have air conditioners, place a tray or dish of ice in front of a fan and it’ll help to cool your room quickly.
If you are overheated
If you feel overheated, cool off with wet washcloths on your wrists and neck or take a cool sponge bath or shower. Carry a cold water bottle spray or cooling facial mist with you, and spritz cold water on your pressure points to bring your body temperature down. Place an ice pack (covered in a towel) on your wrists or neck. Drink more water.
Check-in on older adults and individuals with chronic health conditions at least twice daily. Look for signs of heat illness. Keep pets hydrated: Provide plenty of fresh water for your pets and leave the water in a shady area.
Types of heat related illness
During extreme heat, people are susceptible to three heat-related illnesses. Learn how to recognize and respond to them:
- Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms caused by heavy sweating.
- Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people overexert themselves in a warm, humid place, and often affects those doing strenuous work in hot weather. Body fluids are lost through heavy sweating and blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to vital organs to decrease. This results in a form of mild shock.
- Symptoms: Cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, nausea, dizziness, headache, weakness, and/or exhaustion
- Treatment: Get the person to rest in a comfortable position in a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets. If the person is conscious, give them half a glass of cool water or fluids with electrolytes every 15 minutes, making sure the person drinks slowly. Watch the person carefully for changes in his or her condition and call 9-1-1 if it doesn’t improve.
- Heat stroke is the most serious heat emergency and is life-threatening. Heat stroke develops when systems in the body begin to stop functioning due to extreme heat. Heat stroke may cause brain damage or death if the body is not cooled quickly.
- Symptoms: Extremely high body temperature, hot and red skin (dry or moist), loss of consciousness, changes in level of responsiveness rapid and weak pulse, rapid and shallow breathing, vomiting, confusion, and/or seizures
- Treatment: A person suffering from heat stroke needs immediate assistance. Call 9-1-1 and move the person to a cooler place. Immerse the individual in a cool bath, wrap in cold wet sheets, or cover the person in bags of ice.
Stay safe and healthy. The Red Cross has a free emergency app available at
For more information, see
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