How to Stay Safe in Record-Breaking Heat

The world is on fire, and we are all feeling the heat. From the U.K. to the U.S., temperatures are soaring and it’s probably only going to get worse. Chances are we’re going to experience intense heat waves for the indefinite future and while warm weather is always welcomed in the summer, especially in temperate climates, beating the heat can be tough for those who don’t know how or have the resources to cope. Preparing for a heat wave and knowing how to stay safe and cool is important, especially for the very young, old, and other vulnerable members of society as they are more susceptible to things like heatstroke, heat stress, and exhaustion. 

“When your body heats up blood vessels naturally begin to expand and open up, this decreases blood pressure and as a result your heart has to work that bit harder to move blood around,” Dr. Conor O’Flynn, MD. “This is already a cause for concern, but when you begin to overheat you also begin to sweat —sweating leads to a loss of salts and this alters the balance of fluids in the body.” 

As a result, says O’Flynn, you may suffer from exhaustion. Tell-tale signs of exhaustion include fatigue, significant sweating, cramps, fainting, nausea, dizziness, a sense of confusion and more. “The longer these symptoms are left untreated or addressed, the greater the risk.”

Below are tips on how to stay safe in record-breaking heat. 

Drink tons of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine 

“Although it may be tempting to head down to your nearest bar to enjoy a drink in the sun, it’s not advisable,” O’Flynn says. “Alcohol dehydrates the body and during a particularly hot spell you need all of the fluids you can get. Same goes for things like coffee and sugary drinks.”

Instead make sure you’re staying hydrated with lots of water. “You’re going to need at least two liters of water in extreme heats, if not more,” O’Flynn recommends. Ideally, he says you’ll want to drink a glass of water at least once an hour and throw in a sports drink in order to ensure you’re replacing the salt and electrolytes you’ve lost from sweating.

Avoid the outdoors and try to stay inside

“First and foremost try to stay indoors or at least in the shade during the hottest part of the day, around 11-3pm as this is when the UV Rays are the strongest,” O’Flynn says. “When you are venturing out into the sun make sure to generously apply sunscreen, stick to the shade as much as possible and wear a hat to protect your head. Always keep a bottle of water on your person and sip throughout the day, you’re going to need at least two liters of water in extreme heats, if not more.” 

If you’re worried about going outdoors  Dr. Phillip Kadaj, MD says for healthy people, short periods of time in excessive heat can be okay and recommends seeking shade every 15 minutes to 30 minutes. 

“But people with chronic medical conditions or the elderly should never really spend more than a very short time in excessive heat.   

Keep cool indoors

Obviously, if you have AC and/or fans, you want to blast that cool air and circulate it as much as possible to keep your temperature down. Additionally, O’Flynn recommends keeping your blinds and curtains closed in order to block sunlight. “The same goes for the windows, these should only be opened when the temperature outside is lower than the inside temperature.”

If you’re really struggling to stay cool there are a number of tricks you can implement. O’Flynn suggests cold showers, ice baths for the feet or just a water mister can go a long way. “You can also hang wet towels inside in particularly hot rooms – this will increase the humidity in a room but cools the air as the water evaporates.”

Stay cool in public spaces

Whether you’re out and about in the midst of a heatwave or having trouble staying cool at your house, Kadaj says public buildings or restaurants are good options for keeping cool.  Fast food chains are a good option. “Grab a good book and buy water and take a rest in a fast-food restaurant if it is really hot outside.  Or find a library and check out a book and rest and read for a while during hot parts of the day. “

If you have to be outside, he says find a shady area with a nice breeze if possible.

“The shade and breeze will keep you cool.”

Learn how to monitor your own body heat 

​​According to O’Flynn, it’s key to watch for signs of excessive sweating and any possible signs of heat exhaustion. “These can include nausea, dizziness, headaches, extreme thirst, rapid pulse/breathing and a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or over.” If you’re feeling extremely overheated, O’Flynn says to drink plenty of water, and “move to a cool, shady area, lay down and raise the feet slightly then try to cool the skin. This can be done by spraying cold water on yourself, placing a cold pack on the back of the neck or armpit or just by fanning.”

Another option is your vehicle. “Cars are often very warm in the heat so be sure to turn the vehicle on and get the AC going before you get in,” Kadaj says.  

How to know if you’re simply too hot or experiencing heat exhaustion

While Kadaj says it’s often difficult to tell the difference between heat exhaustion and simply being hot or overheated, there are some simple clues that the average person can use to help someone in need.  

“If you suspect someone might have heat exhaustion and is conscious and responsive, they should be immediately moved to the shade or a cool place if available. If they are exhibiting symptoms like confusion, shortness of breath, difficulty walking while in the cool environment, this could be a sign of heat exhaustion.”

If they quickly return to normal, then they were just hot.  If not, then this could be a sign of heat exhaustion. Another clue, according to Kadaj, is subjective sense of temperature. “If someone starts to feel cold or have goose bumps even in extreme heat, this is a bad sign and indicates impending heat exhaustion and serious medical injury. If you aren’t sure, call 911 and get a professional immediately.”

Before you go, check out our favorite recovery essentials for chilling out your body after a tough workout (or just existing in the heat): 

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