- Heat waves across the country have people looking for ways to stay cool.
- High summer temperatures can increase the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- If you don’t have air conditioning, there are various other ways to stay safe from the heat.
With heat waves causing record temperatures across the country, you may be wondering how to safely stay cool this summer, especially if you’re without a working air conditioner.
To help you beat the heat, Healthline spoke with medical experts who shared their five favorite tips for keeping cool when the summer sun gets too hot to handle.
Here’s what they suggest.
One of the best ways to stay cool is to avoid the heat altogether by staying inside with adequate ventilation.
“If you have to go outside, limit your time outside by taking frequent breaks where you can go inside or to an air-conditioned area to cool off. If you do not have air conditioning during these times, contact your local community centers or legislators for a list of cooling centers in your area,” said Dr. Frederick Davis, associate chair at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center, told Healthline.
Going to a mall, library, movie theater, or restaurant are other ways to get in a few hours of air conditioning.
Also, Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, regional clinical director at Carbon Health, warns that if you partake in indoor activities to escape the heat, be sure to observe COVID-19 protocols and consider getting vaccinated.
“While we are getting back to a more normal life, it is important to remember that COVID is still a factor, and we must prevent the spread so it does not lead to more serious illness… This will provide a layer of protection, whether indoors or outside, to keep you and your family safe while you enjoy all the joys and activities summer has to offer,” she said.
If you don’t have air conditioning, you can prevent the sun from warming your home by closing windows and shades during the day and opening windows during the night to let in the cooler air.
“Also, avoid turning on the oven or other appliances that may increase your indoor temperature,” said Curry-Winchell.
Davis says it’s easy for the body to lose water through sweating when exposed to high temperatures.
“For this reason, one can dehydrate fairly quickly when in extreme temperatures for a prolonged period of time. [It] is important to try to carry water with you… Drink enough water to replace any fluids lost during exposure to the heat,” said Davis.
Curry-Winchell adds that drinking enough fluids can help protect against heatstroke or heat exhaustion.
“If you are feeling thirsty, you are often dehydrated. I recommend drinking water even if you don’t feel thirsty,” she said.
If you feel yourself getting heated, Curry-Winchell suggests applying cold compresses or ice packs on key zones of your body, such as your neck and wrist.
However, it’s important not to apply ice directly to the skin as it can cause ice burn.
Instead, keep a layer of clothing or a towel between your skin and the cold source.
“You can also take a cool shower or bath to cool down, but avoid sudden changes of temperature — an abrupt drop in temperature can be harmful to the body,” she said.
Wear loose, lightweight, and light-colored clothing on hot days.
“White and light colors reflect the sun whereas dark colors absorb the heat,” said Curry-Winchell.
And be sure to apply sunscreen on any areas of your body not covered by clothing, if you go outside.
“[Even] if you are just driving, UV can come through car windows,” Curry-Winchell said.
Finding ways to keep from overheating isn’t just for comfort, though, it’s necessary for your health, too.
“When your body overheats, not only will you feel warm, but it can actually lead to more devastating effects on your health,” Davis said. “This can present as heat exhaustion, which is seen with sweating, weakness, and elevated body temperature and go as far as heat stroke, which is seen with extreme overheating that causes confusion, loss of consciousness, and can be fatal.”
Organs such as the brain and heart need to be between 97 to 99°F (36.1 to 37.2°C) to function properly, Curry-Winchell says.
“Staying cool during high temperatures will allow your body to regulate itself and activate its internal cooling system by sweating. When sweating isn’t enough to keep the body temperature regulated, excess heat can cause heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke,” she told Healthline.
Heat exhaustion involves mild to serious symptoms, including:
- excess thirst
- muscle cramps
- excessive sweating
Heatstroke, which occurs when body temperature reaches more than 104°F (40°C), includes symptoms such as:
- intense headache
- loss of consciousness
- cessation of sweating
Infants, children, and older people have a higher chance of developing heat exhaustion and heatstroke because their bodies have a harder time regulating body temperature when it’s hot.
People who are ill or taking certain medications may also be at increased risk.
“If you or someone you love has a chronic health condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease, make sure to speak with your healthcare provider about personalized ways to stay safe in extreme heat,” said Curry-Winchell.