The dog days of summer are upon us. Heat and humidity can make it difficult to be comfortable, especially for those who don’t have air conditioning. Extreme heat can even be deadly, causing heat exhaustion or heatstroke if not treated in time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates approximately 600 people die from heat related complications each year. This is more deaths than from all other natural disasters combined (flooding, tornadoes, and hurricanes). Those who are most vulnerable include infants, children, the elderly, those who work outdoors, and people with chronic medical conditions.
Heat exhaustion is when the body overheats and can lead to heatstroke if the symptoms are not treated in time. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating, rapid pulse, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, headache, and muscle cramps. These symptoms often occur when a person is participating in strenuous physical activity. If a person is experiencing these symptoms, immediately have them rest, move to a cooler place and drink water or sports drinks. Seek immediate medical attention if the symptoms don’t improve within an hour.
Heat exhaustion is preventable by taking some simple precautions. By planning ahead of time when a high heat index is predicted, you can stay as cool as a cucumber by following these simple tips:
- Stay hydrated and drink more water than you usually do. Avoid beverages with caffeine, alcohol, or high amounts of sugar. If you are physically active or sweating more than usual, try drinking a sport drink with electrolytes.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing in natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or hemp. These allow your body to breathe.
- Cool off with water by soaking your feet in a tub of cold water. Keep a spray bottle of water in the refrigerator and mist yourself throughout the day. Take it with you when you leave the house.
- If your house isn’t air conditioned, head to your local library, mall or community building. If your house has a basement, create a comfortable area where you can sit when it’s hot outside.
- Create a cross breeze by positioning a fan across the room from a window. To cool the room down even more, place a pan of ice in front of the fan to generate a cool breeze.
- Cool off your house or apartment by turning of lights and using heat-generating appliances at night, such as washers, dryers, and irons.
- Dampen a towel or small blanket with cool water and wrap it around your body.
- Take a cool shower.
One extra note – remember your four-legged friends especially during the heat. Dogs and cats don’t have the ability to sweat like humans, so they will be affected differently by heat. Give your pet a haircut and keep them indoors on hot days, providing them with water. Limit outdoor activity or exercise and don’t push them too hard. When they are outside, be sure they have a shady spot to lie in and make sure they have plenty of cool water to drink. Avoid hot surfaces since your pet is basically barefoot. If your dog doesn’t have much fur, you can use a special pet sunblock with zinc oxide to prevent burns. Never leave a pet in a parked car, even on cooler days. The inside temperature heats up very quickly! If you think your pet is overheated, get them into shade or air conditioning immediately. Don’t submerge them in cold water; cooling down too quickly can cause problems. Wet them under a faucet or hose with lukewarm water and let the air flow around them. Offer small amounts of water to drink and call your veterinarian immediately.
Enjoy summer and all the fun activities it brings – picnics, swimming, gardening, and long lazy days…
References: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat Related Illness, https://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/warning.html
WebMD, Green Tips for a Cool Summer, http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/green-tips-for-a-cool-summer.
City of Cincinnati Health Department, http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/health/news/excessive-heat-warning-issued/
Written by: Jennifer Even, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Hamilton County.
Reviewed by: Liz Smith, M.S., RDN, L.D., Ohio State University Extension, SNAP-Ed.