Summer heat waves are not to be taken lightly. There is much more at stake than comfort. Heat waves can be deadly. In fact, twenty years ago, in July 1995, over 700 people died here in Chicago as a result of an extended period of high temperatures and high humidity. As I write this, India is gripped by a heat wave that has killed over 2,300 people and is not over yet.
As the temperatures are rising here in the northern hemisphere, it’s a good idea to review some ways to stay safe if you are facing a heat wave, even without air conditioning. Here are nine methods to beat the heat.
Use fans. At the risk of stating the obvious, use a box fan or a ceiling fan. It may not make the air cooler, but the breeze reduces the effect of the heat. A neat trick is to put a pan of ice water between yourself and the fan. It will blow the cool air in your direction and cool you down nicely.
Open the windows and doors. In the 1995 Chicago heat wave, many of the victims were reluctant to open the windows and doors because they lived in high crime areas. Certainly, that is a serious concern. But don’t overlook the real risk that you can face from being overheated. Open the windows and doors to your home, at least intermittently, especially in the evening when the outdoor temperatre is likely to drop.
Drink plenty of water. Preferably ice water. A cold beverage in your stomach cools your body temperature. It also gives your body plenty of fluid to sweat out, which is your body’s natural mechanism for keeping cool.
Wash down with cool water. Take a cool bath or shower. Sit with your feet in a cool pan of water. Use a cool, wet facecloth to wipe your face and the back of your neck. Hold your hands and wrists under the cold water. Press a baggie full of ice cubes or a bag of frozen peas against your forehead.
Stay downstairs. Don’t forget that hot air rises. If you have a multi-level house, stay downstairs. If you have a basement, spend some time there.
Go to air conditioned places. Visit a museum or public library or take in a movie. Some cities, alert to the dangers of high temperatures, make arrangements for their residents to have access to public buildings or air-conditioned buses (which may just sit immobile) to use as cooling centers.
Eat light. There are two reasons to avoid cooking heavy meals in a heat wave. First, the stove or oven throws off heat that will add to your discomfort. Second, digesting a heavy meal can cause you to feel warmer. So, when the temperature rises, eat salad or yogurt or, best of all, ice cream.
Unplug your appliances. Left plugged in, appliances can give off heat even if they are not in use. Collectively, the heat created by your appliances can make a difference in the heat of your home. If you are in the habit of leaving your coffee maker, television set, computer, and lamps plugged in even if they aren’t on, consider unplugging them during a heat wave.
Be alert to heat-related illnesses and call 911 if symptoms appear. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are referred to together as “heat-related illnesses”. Heat cramps are cramps of the large muscles caused by physical exertion when the temperature is high. Heat exhaustion can be recognized by profuse sweating, weakness, nausea, vomiting, headache, lightheadedness and muscle cramps. Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature is elevated, caused by external high temperatures. If you are experiencing these symptoms, call 911. Professional medical attention is indicated.
Children and the elderly are at greater risk of being seriously effected by high temperatures than others. So if you have children or elderly people in your family or your community, check in with them.
Heat can be trapped in cities by asphalt and concrete and the wells made by highrises. So if you can get out of the city during a heat wave, even for a few hours, you may find relief.
Treat periods of high temperatures with the seriousness that they deserve. Heat waves can cause death. Don’t let one cause yours.