How to Survive a Heat Wave

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It’s July, and it’s hot. But with parts of the country expected to swelter under triple digit temperatures, public health officials say it’s important to heed the heat.

In the Northeast, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. are expecting their highest heat measures of the summer, with readings peaking in the upper 90s and low 100s all week long. For New York City and the New England area, weather experts say that qualifies as a heat wave — defined as three or more days in a row with temperatures in the high 90s.

Other cities like Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati will also have their share of steamy days this week.

While hot days are a staple of summer, according to The Weather Channel, this week’s heat wave can be traced to a dome of high pressure located in the upper atmosphere that is encasing the Northeast, Ohio Valley and Great Lakes. Under that bubble of high pressure, temperatures typically rise 10 degrees above the average.

With consistently high humidity and temperatures, health officials say breathing can become difficult for some, including the elderly, so people caught in the heat wave should take precautions. Drinking lots of water and spending as much time as possible under air conditioning is important. For those who don’t have air conditioning, some cities offer cooling facilities where residents can wait out the hottest hours of the day; shopping malls are also good places to cool off while temperatures soar.

Even healthy people should take the heat into consideration in order to avoid heat exhaustion or dehydration, and doctors say these tips can keep you cool:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol. While a cool beer may sound inviting on a steamy day, both caffeine and alcohol can dehydrate the body, which is the last thing you need when temperatures rise. “Alcohol and caffeine are dangerous in this type of weather. They create a chemical inside your body that makes you pee more than you should–it’s a diuretic,” says Dr. Salvatore Pardo, the vice chairperson of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York.
  • Tone it down. Healthy people who are active during the day should limit the amount time they spend outside during peak heat hours, which generally span from 11 am to 2 pm. Shift outdoor activities to the early morning or evening. If you want to work out, consider going to the gym instead of running outdoors.
  • Don’t forget humidity. If you must work out outdoors, remember to check humidity levels, which can add several degrees to the heat index. “The environment is two-fold, it’s temperature and the humidity. If it was 85 degrees and low humidity, that’s a beautiful time to work out. If it is 85 degrees and greater than 70% humidity, then your body is going to have a hard time cooling off,” says Pardo. The body cools off by sweating and evaporating the water on the surface of the skin. If the air is saturated with water, the process doesn’t happen as efficiently and you can’t cool down.
  • Don’t leave kids or pets in cars. Even if you’re only going to be a few minutes, the temperature inside a car can quickly rise to above 100 degrees. Children and pets can’t sweat enough to cool off, so they are even more vulnerable to the rising temperatures in a closed car.
  • Check in on the elderly. The elderly already have less tolerance to heat due to their age, and couple that with the fact that they typically take pills that can dehydrate the body, and some elderly patients may be even more vulnerable to the effects of hot temperatures. Making sure that elderly residents drink enough water, and that they turn on their air conditioning is important. “The elderly who are on their own tend to not turn on their air conditioner because they don’t feel like they need to or they don’t want to spend the money because they’re on a fixed income,” says Pardo. ” You know grandma has the air conditioner, but you don’t know if she has turned it on. You have to go into the house and check on people. It doesn’t have to be 65 degrees. Even if it was 75 degree or 85 degrees, that’s better.”

Heat-related sickness can be serious, leading to nausea, dizziness, confusion, headaches and rapid heartbeat. But in most cases, it’s avoidable. Drink plenty of water and stay in climate-controlled environments for as long as possible. But if you do feel ill and your symptoms don’t resolve after a few minutes in a cool setting, go to the emergency for treatment, where you may receive a quick infusion of fluids to replace what you’ve lost.