- Rampant incidences of high heat across the country are putting more and more people in danger of heat-related illnesses.
- There are ways to prepare for heat waves and ensure your safety.
- Experts share tips for keeping cool in high temperatures.
This summer, cities across the Southwest and central United States have experienced record-breaking heat. Nearly 105 million people are currently under a heat advisory or excessive heat warning. And dangerous heat will continue this summer, according to the National Weather Service.
In fact, rising heat has been increasing in occurrence and duration worldwide for some time and looks to be a trend that will continue. The World Health Organization (WHO)
To prepare for extreme heat that may be coming your way, consider the following tips to stay safe and cool.
Environmental factors such as weather and internal body heat resulting from metabolic processes both contribute to how the body is heated. When the body becomes hot, your body temperature can increase your heart rate and blood flow to the skin because blood vessels dilate to increase sweating.
“Heat mostly dehydrates you and warms up your core temperature. When you are outside in the heat, gradually over time, the body will lose moisture and warm up, which accelerates [the dehydration] process,” Dr. Jen Brull, family physician and board member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told Healthline.
When the body is unable to regulate its temperature due to extreme heat, this can cause illness, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia, states WHO.
Brull said planning ahead can often help people avoid heat-related illnesses. Before heading out in the heat, she said to think about and research the following:
- What will the temperature be?
- How long will I be outside in the heat?
- Will there be shade from the sun?
“[Look] at weather-enabled apps or web pages to see what the temperature will be and will there be precipitation or cloud coverage and what the heat index is,” Brull said.
If you plan to be outside for a while, ensure there is a place that provides shade, such as trees or a covered picnic area. Best of all, if there is a building with air conditioning, plan set times to step inside for a bit.
“Remember shade doesn’t need to be from a physical structure. Wearing a hat or carrying an umbrella both provide local shade for the person who has them,” said Brull.
Wearing light colors rather than dark colors can keep you cooler, too, because dark colors will warm you up.
“In the winter, it’s great to wear dark colors, they help the sun get to you and keep you warm. In the summer, it’s the opposite. You want to wear light colors to reflect the sun and keep you cooler,” Brull explained.
However, note that if your goal is to wear clothing that protects your skin from harmful UV radiation, the Skin Cancer Foundation states that dark or bright colors keep rays from penetrating through clothes and reaching your skin more effectively than lighter shades.
And while sunscreen won’t protect you from heat exhaustion, Brull said it’s good to wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn. A sunburn “will make the process of recovering from heat longer and slower.”
Hydrating helps the body keep a normal temperature and when you sweat, drinking water replaces the fluid volumes you’re losing while cooling down your body from the inside out. In addition to water, Brull said drinks that include electrolytes can help with dehydration.
While in the heat, she said to avoid drinks that have caffeine or alcohol, which cause dehydration.
“Alcohol causes problems because it inhibits your ability to recognize how hot you are and accelerates the process of dehydration,” said Brull.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (
- Keep a water bottle with you at all times.
- Freeze a freezer-safe water bottle and carry it with you.
- Add lime or lemon to your water to improve the taste.
If you’re engaging in activity like hiking or playing a sport in the heat, Dr. Alexis Colvin, an orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai, said to make sure you drink water before you are physical, as well as during and after exercise.
“When the activity is less than 1 hour, water is the ideal drink. After 1 hour, drinking fluids that contain both carbohydrates and sodium can replenish lost glucose and electrolytes,” she told Healthline.
Before exercising in the heat, she suggested establishing a baseline level of fitness while in a cooler environment.
“Second, gradually increase the hours and days of activity in the hotter climate over several weeks. Make sure to take frequent breaks and to have cooling methods available such as ice towels,” said Colvin.
Additionally, limit sun exposure and stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you must be outside during those times, take precautions to prevent sun exposure by reapplying sunscreen, and dressing appropriately with a hat, sunglasses, and proper clothing.
“Also be sure to take frequent breaks,” Colvin said.
Being aware of symptoms that could indicate a serious heat-related illness can help you seek care when needed. Two conditions to be particularly aware are:
- Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses a lot of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating.
- Heat stroke happens when the body can’t control its temperature and is unable to cool down through sweating.
- High body temperature which reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Hot, red, dry or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
- Passing out
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, pale, or clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Nausea or throwing up
- Muscle cramps
- Tiredness or feeling weak
“If you’re having severe symptoms from the heat, it’s important to get inside and call 911 right away,” said Brull.