Staying cool during hot weather: As heat wave impacts millions, here's how to stay safe
A cancelled college graduation ceremony, schools without air-conditioning shifting to virtual learning and even several deaths. This week's potentially record-breaking heat wave has more than 100 million Americans under heat advisories, excessive heat warnings and excessive heat watches — and summer hasn't even officially started yet.
A large swath of the country, going as far north as Minnesota and as far east as the Carolinas is on track to hit 100 degrees, according to AccuWeather forecasts. The hot weather has only been exacerbated by a sprawling heat dome that has made its way across the West. Such weather events happen when the atmosphere traps hot air like a lid or cap.
Experts say preparing for the prolonged heat could ensure your plans aren't ruined and your health isn't at risk. As it heats up and many rely on fans and air conditioning, here are some tips to stay cool.
How the heat wave can impact your health
Your body is always trying to set your internal temperature, so when it's hot outside you cool off through sweating.
When your sweat evaporates, it takes heat away from your body. But when it's humid, sweat has nowhere to go and doesn't help in cooling a person off as much, Dr. Ryan Lamb, an emergency doctor and medical director at UNC Rex Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, told USA TODAY.
'This is serious':Millions under heat wave warnings as triple-digit temps move east
"The water can't evaporate into anywhere, because it's already in the air and so there's nowhere for the moisture to go," he said.
When that happens, people can start to experience heat exhaustion. While that can be mild, severe heat exhaustion — known as heatstroke — can turn deadly. Heatstroke happens when your body becomes unable to control its internal temperature.
But noticing signs of heat exhaustion can be challenging, Lamb said.
"The one unfortunate thing is that we don't necessarily see you progress from mild to moderate to severe," he said. "So unfortunately, sometimes you could spend the afternoon with someone and then you turn around and realize they're 'severe' and you didn't see any other symptoms."
Signs of heat exhaustion include:
- Heat rash, which can be itchy
- Swelling in the hands and feet
- Passing out
Signs of severe heat exhaustion include:
- Feeling sick to your stomach
If you see any signs of confusion, or someone being disoriented, seek immediate medical attention, Lamb said.
Easy ways to keep cool in hot weather
Older Americans, people who work outside, and those who take medication for things such as heart disease and blood pressure are among the Americans who are at the highest risk for heatstroke, said Dr. Fred Campbell, a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
Certain medications, including those to treat schizophrenia, can interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature. For older Americans, the risk is also high because the ability to regulate your body's temperature declines with age, Campbell said.
There are easy ways to cure being overheated. Getting inside and into the air conditioning is always helpful, along with finding some shade and drinking lots of water.
When it comes to hydrating, it's best to drink water with added electrolytes, according to Lamb. Capsules or tablets used to flavor water are an easy way to add a little bit a salt, as opposed to buying sugary sports drinks.
Surfaces help too, like sitting in cool grass as opposed to hot black asphalt. Or, even hanging out in a pool or in the ocean.
What if I don't have any AC?
If you live somewhere without air conditioning, Lamb recommends opening your windows at night and closing them before the afternoon heats up.
Typically, the peak hours when most areas see the hottest weather is from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. That's when it's most important to try to keep cool, even if that means finding refuge in a business or restaurant or carrying around a fan or spray bottle to cool off.
When it comes to older Americans and young children, who can't regulate their temperature as well, having multiple fans "directly blowing" on them can make a big difference, Campbell said.
Contributing: Doyle Rice and Jordan Mendoza, USA TODAY; The Associated Press