How to Protect Yourself and Your Pets in a Heat Wave

Health + Wellness
Young woman refreshing in front of cooling fan with her dog

Picnics, barbecues, swimming pools and ice cream. Summer is here, and bringing the heat, but this year, a combination of changing weather patterns and a record-breaking drought is raising temperatures to dangerous levels.

Hundreds of people have died in the last week, as a result of more than a hundred-degree temperatures in areas not equipped for the extreme weather.

While the daily heat can be excruciating, and you may not be enjoying your summer break, there are ways to help you and your pets stay safe, even if you don’t have air conditioning.

1. Stay Hydrated

On a normal day, men need almost 16 glasses of water and women nearly 12. This increases during heat waves because our bodies are expending water in the form of sweat. This is meant to keep you cool, but in extreme heat, it doesn’t work, and our bodies just keep creating more.

Hydration doesn’t have to be from water. Many foods and other drinks work, so long as they are not caffeinated. Stay away from sugary drinks, alcohol and caffeine, and you should be good.

A good way to check for dehydration is by noticing the color of your urine. Anything darker than lemonade in color means you need more liquids. Keep in mind that if you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Make sure you have plenty of clean, fresh water on hand, in case of a power outage or water shortage.

Keep your pets stocked with water, also. While some of them may not sweat, if they are panting without exercise, they may be dehydrated, and that will lead to them overheating.

2. Stay Out of the Sun

It seems simple but staying out of the sun will help prevent heat-related illness and injury. If you must be outside, wear loose-fitting clothing, a hat with a large brim and bring an umbrella for shade. Keep to areas shaded by trees or other tall structures and try to find breezeways and other places where even a slight wind can run through.

The sun is strongest between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. so if you must be outside, try to schedule it around those hours. Exposure to the sun during times of immense heat can exacerbate heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and lead to sunburn and sun poisoning.

3. Use Hacks to Keep Your Home Cool

Many people do not have central air or even window-unit air conditioners, and windows have enough space around them to equal a 3-foot hole in your wall, if added all together. Check for gaps. Close your blinds and drapes, and consider heavier insulation around the window areas to prevent heat from coming in. This could be old comforters, blankets, anything you have that will absorb the heat.

Fans only work if there is some form of cooler air in the house, so after days of 100 plus temps, your trusty plug-in may not work like you want. You can try putting a tray of ice cubes in front of it, to have it blow the cooler evaporation toward your living space.

Wet washcloths on your neck and wrists can alleviate discomfort, and if you have the option, taking cool or cold showers will help keep your body temperature lower.

Hot air rises, so stay on the lower floors, and if you have a basement or a garage, even better.

Try not to use your oven or stove. These appliances increase the temperature since they are sources of heat themselves.

4. Know the Symptoms of Heat-Induced Distress and Seek Help When Necessary

There are temperatures and humidity levels where human beings can spontaneously die, and those conditions are becoming ever more common.

If someone you know is experiencing heat exhaustion, they may start by heavily sweating, then you’ll notice their skin will turn pale, cold and clammy. They may experience muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, dizziness or even pass out. If this happens, call for medical attention, and while you wait, put loose clothing on them and place cool, wet cloths on their exposed skin.

Heatstroke is an even more serious condition. If someone you know has a body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, call for help. They will also experience dizziness, vomiting and may pass out. If you suspect heatstroke, put the person in a cold bath, and do not give them anything to drink at all while you wait for the medics to come.

5. Check in on Your Neighbors and Furry Friends

Often, older people have more trouble self-regulating their body temperatures, so heat affects them at an increased level. Also, more vulnerable populations with underlying conditions will succumb to heat-induced injury first. Check on your friends and neighbors regularly, especially if they live alone, to make sure they are keeping as cool as they can.

Keep your pets in dark rooms with exposed flooring — like tile, linoleum, or hardwood — they can lay down on these surfaces and help cool their bodies.

Make sure they have plenty of cold water to drink. And never leave them in a parked car, even for a minute, even with the window down, in high temperatures. Cars can heat to well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in just minutes.

Darlena Cunha is a freelance writer and a professor at the University of Florida, with degrees in communications and ecology.

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