Heat waves are known for being dangerously deadly! How is it possible to stay cool?
High heat and humidity may be tolerable for a moment but do you know the dangers that prolonged heat exposure pose?
In 2003, approximately 15,000 people died in France alone due to the heat- the estimated death toll throughout Europe was somewhere close to 70,000! That’s HUGE.
Around the end of June, Europe was hit with a heat wave that brought in record-breaking temperatures in France, as well as wildfires in Spain. Another heat wave is expected to hit the European region in the next few days.
Last week, an estimated 154 million Americans living in the central and eastern parts of the US received a heat wave warning. Imagine all those people cranking up their A/C or using fans to cool off. As expected, the electric grid was not be able to withstand the massive power surge due to the high demand, so there were numerous power outages. New York City, Brooklyn specifically, experienced outages that lasted several hours.
These are only a handful of facts to shed light on the dangers that extremely high temperatures can have on our society. Our bodies are fragile and can only handle so much. It’s necessary to learn ways to keep our body temperature down without depending on electricity. We’re accustomed to using air conditioners but the truth is that we can’t rely on them 100% of the time.
I hope the following tips will give you some creative inspiration to help deal with the coming heat waves (which are expected to rise).
Let us not become part of the death toll statistics and learn coping methods that will help us survive what is yet to come.
How does a heat wave affect the human body?
Just like the inner workings of a car, our bodies get overheated if there are not enough fluids keeping our internal organs stabilized at a certain temperature.
The first thing your body will do is sweat. To prevent dehydration you have to supplement all that lost water and electrolytes by drinking more water and eating water-rich fruits and veggies.
If your body reaches a heat limit and it no longer has the resources to stabilize your internal temperature, your central nervous system and circulatory system will become affected. This can quickly turn into a domino effect where your organs will start to shut down, causing a myriad of other problems.
Babies, children, pregnant and nursing mothers, adults over the age of 65, and people with chronic physical health problems are at a higher risk of heat stress.
Children are vulnerable because their bodies heat up much quicker than the average adult. Nursing mothers can become dehydrated very quickly during breastfeeding. Older adults and people with preexisting conditions can experience heat-related side-effects from the medications they’re taking.
Ensure your health and spare your life by preventing heat stress altogether.
Prepare for a heat wave! Free checklist
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Survive a heat wave with these tips:
— What to wear
- Wear breathable fabrics, such as linen and cotton.
- Use loose-fitting clothes to allow air to circulate throughout the body. Tight clothes trap sweat and don’t allow your pores to breathe.
- Use light-colored clothing. Dark colors attract sun rays thereby making you feel warmer.
- Wear a wet bandana around your head. When it dries up, soak it again and put it back on. I did this while traveling through Central America and it really helped bring down my body temperature. Also, even with the lightest breeze, your head will feel cool and refreshed.
— What to eat and drink
- Drink 8 or more cups of water a day, even if you’re not thirsty. If you’re like me and it's difficult to reach the 8 cups, try adding a splash of lemon juice or infuse the water with some fruits. If it doesn’t taste plain, you’ll be more likely to drink it. You will sweat so much in high heat and humidity that you need to replenish your body by constantly drinking water and electrolytes.
- Drink coconut water. Not only is coconut water extremely hydrating, but it also contains nutrients to balance the electrolytes your body lost through sweat.
- Drink watermelon juice. Last year, I traveled to Southeast Asia during their hottest and most humid season. In Cambodia I discovered the drink that saved my life: watermelon juice! I still make it at home because it cools your body down so quickly. To make it, fill a blender with as many pieces of fresh-cut watermelon as possible. Add a cup of water and blend it for a couple of minutes. Add 2 cups of ice and blend it until all the ice is crushed up. Serve immediately and enjoy!
- Drink minty lemonade. This drink was something my parents discovered in Italy a few years ago, and it has stuck with our family ever since. In a blender, bring together 6 cups of water (or more if you wish), the juice of 1 lime, the juice of 1 lemon, a handful of peppermint leaves, and a few cups of ice. To sweeten it up, add a tablespoon or two of sugar or the sweetener of your choice. Serve immediately and enjoy!
- Eat cold foods that are not too heavy on the stomach, such as fresh veggies and fruit. A salad is the perfect lunch on a hot day. Some of the best vegetables to keep you cool are: green leafy veggies, asparagus, broccoli, green beans, and zucchini. Some of the best fruits are: avocados, pineapples, mangoes, cherries, and peaches.
- Eat foods that have a high water content, such as watermelon, strawberries, and cucumber.
- Prepare meals that don’t require cooking. Cooking and baking means that heat is involved in the process. Not only does turning on the stove or oven during a hot day make the room hotter, but also a cold meal will be cooling for the body. If the power goes out, it won’t interfere with your meal-prep either. These are some meals that don’t require electricity to prepare. If you can’t live on a raw veggie diet for a couple of days, grill something outdoors in the evening hours when it’s not scorching hot.
- Enjoy water-based fruity ice creams or popsicles. Prepare for hot weather ahead of time by making your own popsicles. Freeze fresh fruit juice with a popsicle stick and have it ready to go when you need a mid-day treat.
— What not to eat or drink
- Do not drink something that will dehydrate you. Staying hydrated is extremely important because in high heat and humidity, you’re getting rid of a lot of water through sweat. Alcohol and caffeine are two big no-no’s!
- Do not eat heavy, greasy, salty, spicy, or overly-processed foods. Spicy foods will cool your body down internally by causing you to sweat more. Sweating profusely is really uncomfortable for most people, which is why I recommend avoiding spicy food altogether.
- Do not eat foods that are high in protein or dairy because your body works harder to process them.
— Where to go
- Go to places that will have air conditioning, such as the mall, a movie theater, the library, or a coffee shop/ restaurant. These options are cost effective because a coffee or movie ticket costs you a lot less than having to run the A/C all day at home.
- Get in the water. There’s nothing more refreshing than swimming in a blistering hot day. Be sure to diligently protect your skin to prevent sun poisoning or sun burns/ blisters. Find a local pool, beach, lake, river, soak in your bathtub, or take a cold shower.
- Go to a cooling center. These are air-conditioned places that the city makes available to the general public to help them overcome heat waves.
— What else to do
- Take advantage of the cooler mornings and evenings to do the things you like to do outdoors, such as exercising and watering your lawn/ garden.
- Open the window in the evening and morning hours if the temperature is significantly colder. Hang a damp bedsheet over the window to let in a cool breeze.
- During the middle of the day when it starts to feel warmer, shut the windows and close the blinds/curtains. Stay indoors if you have air conditioning and/or a fan.
- If you don’t have A/C but you have a floor fan, you can put a bowl of ice water in front of it and it will help circulate some cool air as the ice in the pan melts. Once all of the ice turns into water, use it for your plants and add more ice.
- Check your ceiling fan settings to make sure they are properly adjusted. When the blades run in a counter-clockwise direction, they keep you cooler by pushing the hot air up towards the ceiling. When the blades run clockwise (as they should during winter months), the hot air gets pushed down.
- Stay out of the sun as much as possible and rest in shaded areas. When going in the sun, make sure to protect your skin with sunscreen, protect your eyes from the UV by wearing glasses, and protect your head from getting too hot by wearing a hat or wet bandanna.
- Do not exercise or do strenuous activities during the hotter part of the day, especially not under the direct sunlight. If you want to exercise, try water aerobics or go swimming.
- Take a cold shower. Not only will you feel amazing afterwards (if you’ve been sweating all day) but cold showers also improve blood circulation throughout the body. A warm shower will help restore your body temperature.
- Eat smaller meals than usual but more often. If you still feel hungry after eating, you might actually be dehydrated. Drink a couple cups of water and if you’re still hungry, eat a salad or drink a fruit smoothie.
- Keep a water bottle (that doesn’t leak) in the fridge or freezer all day. When it’s bedtime, put the water bottle inside the bed at the base of your feet. It will keep you much cooler.
- Sleep with “cooling sheets”. These sheets are mostly made from cotton, linen, silk, bamboo, microfiber, and tencel. Their thread count should range from 250/300 to 500 (no more than that).
- Sleep in your underwear or a lightweight pajama made of cotton.
— Natural ways to increase heat tolerance
- Relax. Relaxing is hard for those who are used to being on-the-go all the time, but your body needs days to chill out…literally. Take advantage of the extra hot days to give your body a break and rest.
- Cool down naturally with a misting spray. In a spray bottle, combine a cup or two of cold water with 20 drops of peppermint or spearmint essential oil. If you don’t have essential oils, brew a cup of mint tea instead (use fresh leaves or a tea bag). Put the tea in the fridge until it cools. The menthol in mint has cooling properties that provide an instant refreshing-type of feeling. Spray your body liberally with it. Sandalwood and jasmine essential oils are known to have cooling properties as well.
- Use aloe vera to cool your body down. Aloe vera is great for relieving sun burns, but it also has cooling properties that will benefit you during a very hot day. I recommend using the gel straight from the leaf but you can also buy a bottle of 100% pure aloe vera gel. Smother your arms and legs with it. Add a few drops of peppermint or spearmint essential oil for an extra menthol-refreshing effect.
- Use ice cubes or ice packs to lower your body temperature. Apply the ice to a pressure point in your body, such as your wrists, and elbows. You can also put a frozen towel around your neck or soak your feet in an ice bath for 15 minutes or more. It will take your body a few minutes to adjust, but you should be feeling much better in no time.
— Things to look out for
- Look out for your neighbors. Make sure they have what they need to survive through the heat, especially if they don't have A/C and/or they’re naturally at a higher risk because of their health condition, age, etc.
- Pay extra attention to your kids, elderly people in the household, and pets. Make sure they’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day. When my dog refuses to drink water, I force feed it to him with a plastic syringe. Don’t force feed them too much at once so that they don’t throw it up and become more dehydrated. Know the signs of dehydration both in adults and pets.
- Look out for pets, children, and disabled adults left inside parked cars. This graph shows an approximation of child vehicular heatstroke deaths in the United States. People don’t realize how quickly cars heat up, especially in soaring temperatures. Someone successfully baked chocolate chip cookies in their car in 2 1/2 hours to prove it. The point is this: if you see a person or pet left inside a parked car, get them out of there immediately or call 911.
- Don’t leave water bottles exposed to direct sunlight in your vehicle. The light can refract through the water and start a fire much like a magnifying glass would. There have been several accounts of people who experienced “close calls” and saved their car just in time before them catching on fire.
- Some medications may cause physical side-effects in certain people during extremely high temperatures. Talk to your doctor about any meds you’re taking and evaluate what side-effects or risks you might be facing during the heat wave.
- Medications typically must be stored at a certain temperature to maintain their effectiveness. Ask your doctor for advice on preserving the temperature of your meds in case of a power outage.
— When to get help
- Heat cramps: The first thing to notice is a sudden pain or discomfort in your muscles. This feeling could be a muscle spasm or tightness, typically in your arms, legs or stomach. Drink water with electrolytes, get under the shade or go to a cooler location, and fan yourself or apply a cold compression on the pressure points of your body. Call a doctor if you do not feel relief.
- Heat exhaustion: There are several symptoms for heat exhaustion, such as a fast heart rate, heavy breathing, excessive sweating, fainting, nausea, lethargy, weakness, and/or headache. Call a doctor for medical advice. You may be able to stabilize the person’s temperature with cold compressions on their body’s pressure points, or by spraying them with cold water around their face and body. Also, make sure they drink water with electrolytes.
- Heat stroke: Someone with heatstroke will likely be very dehydrated, experiencing a body temperature of over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. They will be confused, possibly losing consciousness, and behaving irrationally. Call 911 immediately if someone you know is in this situation and assist them in drinking water with electrolytes. Follow the dispatcher’s instructions until medical personnel arrive.
- As a general rule of thumb, don’t allow yourself (or someone under your care) to reach any of the heat-related emergencies just mentioned. If you’re feeling weak, dizzy, or just not your normal self, call your doctor. Drink water with electrolytes and cool your body down using any of the methods listed above.
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A few things you should do before the heat wave hits!
Although there is no way to prevent a heat wave from occurring, there are ways we can become prepared for the issues that commonly arise with prolonged heat exposure.
Make a plan before you’re caught in the midst of intolerably hot temperatures. Dealing with the heat is one thing, but you also risk a long-term power outage and bushfires. Make sure you know what to do and are prepared to evacuate if a fire occurs near you.
- Buy extra cases of water and keep them in the fridge, the basement, or in a dark place like the floor of your closet. Store one gallon (per person in your household) per day- we recommend a minimum of 14 days. If you’re unable to store that much, at least have an alternative means of filtering and purifying water.
- Buy plenty of fresh veggies and fruits that will last you for at least a week. Buy any other indispensable food items so you don’t have to go to the store in the heat.
- Keep flashlights (with working batteries) and candles nearby in case the power goes out.
- Have an emergency backpack ready in case a fire breaks out near you and you are forced to evacuate. Include a first aid kit, extra water bottles, and any other important items you might need, such as medications and copies of your most important documents.
- Be aware of close relatives, friends, and neighbors who may be prone to heat-related injuries due to preexisting medical conditions. Make sure to keep their medical information nearby in case you need to call 911 on their behalf or take them to the hospital. The same goes for you, if applicable.
We can expect more heat waves in the future. While we cannot choose to avoid them entirely, our level of preparedness is our choice.
It's our duty to become prepared and not allow ourselves and our families to be to put in unnecessary danger, especially if it's preventable.
I hope these tips help you become ready for the next time your community experiences outrageously high temperatures.
Like the US National Weather Service said, "be smart and stay cool!"
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