How To Stay Safe During A Heat Wave As Temperatures Hit Dangerous Highs

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Over 24 states will experience a massive heat wave over the next few days, with temperatures expected to reach over 95 degrees fahrenheit for more than half of the population in the continental United States. As the weekend approaches, it's important that Americans know how to stay safe during a heat wave, as extreme temperatures can sometimes pose serious safety risks. The list below offers some guidelines to help ensure that you stay safe and healthy as temperatures rise.

As CNN reported on July 18, over 130 million people in the United States reside in areas under a heat advisory, warning, or watch. The heat wave extends throughout much of the East Coast and the Midwest, and is expected to last Thursday through Saturday, the National Weather Service reported. Many major cities throughout these regions, including New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, and St. Louis, will be impacted by the extreme weather, CNN noted.

Heat waves can put people's lives and health at risk, with the New York Times noting that 108 people died from extreme heat in the United States in 2018. By comparison, the paper added, 30 people died from cold exposure. In an interview with the outlet, Richard Bann, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center, emphasized the particular dangers heat waves pose. "The combination of heat and humidity can take its toll on someone who is outside and overdoing it," Bann said to the paper. "It can be life-threatening.”

As the National Weather Service explained on its website, heat waves can contribute to dangerous heat-related illnesses that"generally have to do with a reduction or collapse of the body's ability to shed heat by circulatory changes and sweating, or a chemical (salt) imbalance caused by too much sweating." The outlet added that "when heat gain exceeds the level the body can remove ... the temperature of the body's inner core begins to rise and heat-related illness may develop."

Because of the risks involved, it's important that people take measures to protect themselves and their loved ones during the heat wave. If you live in an area expected to endure soaring temperatures over the next few days, these tips below might help.

Stay Hydrated

As USA Today reported, it's essential to stay hydrated during the heat wave, as high temperatures make you more prone to dehydration. Avoiding dehydration is crucial, as it can quickly become life-threatening if untreated, the American College of Emergency Physicians noted.

Riana Pryor, a professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at the University at Buffalo who studies athletic performance in extreme temperatures, told the outlet that you can promote hydration by prioritizing the consumption of certain food and drinks. Pryor recommended frequently consuming water and water-heavy beverages, like sports drinks and juice – and avoiding dehydrating drinks, like alcohol. The paper also noted that eating plenty of water-rich foods, like leafy greens and certain berries, can help improve your hydration.

Stay Indoors In Air Conditioning, If Possible

The New York State Department of Health notes that it's especially important to stay indoors in air conditioned spaces during extreme heat to avoid heat-related illness. As the department explained, when indoor temperatures reach around 95 degrees or more, it's recommended that you don't use a fan to try to cool off.

"Fan use may cause your body to gain heat instead of lose it," the department indicated. "On very hot, humid days, sweat evaporates off the skin slower than normal, and fans make it even more difficult for the body to lose heat by sweating." Therefore, to ensure that you don't become overheated, the agency recommends either turning on the air conditioning in your home or heading to an air conditioned public place (or a friend's house) for a minimum of two hours.

Avoid The Hottest Part Of The Day

If you do have to go outside, Harvard Health Publishing says you should try to avoid doing so during midday, as the sun is strongest during this time period. Moreover, the organization notes that you should always try to stay in the shade if and when you are outdoors.

The World Health Organization also recommends avoiding doing any taxing physical activity during a heat wave. But, if you are planning to engage in physical activity, the agency suggests doing so during the coolest part of the day, which is typically between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.

Conserve Energy

It's crucial to conserve energy during a heat wave in order to reduce demands on the power grid. As Harvard University's Office for Sustainability explained, power grids can become overwhelmed during heat waves because everyone is using significant amounts of energy, particularly from air conditioners, to stay cool. The university explained that, if a power grid becomes too unstable or overwhelmed, blackouts and brownouts can occur, which can be very dangerous during extreme heat.

Therefore, in order to reduce demands on the power grid, the university recommends turning off any non-essential electronic items, as well as unplugging electronics like computers and printers if you're leaving your home for over an hour. Moreover, in a Sierra News Online article, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) recommends shutting your windows and pulling down shades to keep your home cool. The company also suggests setting your air conditioner to 78 degrees or more when you're in your home and 85 degrees when you are away, if possible.

Recognize Signs Of Heat-Related Illnesses

Because extreme heat can pose a significant risk to health, you should know what warning signs to look for to identify heat-related illnesses.

This helpful chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes the signs and symptoms of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn, and heat rash — and explains what to do if you suspect someone has any of these conditions.

Notably, heat stroke is considered an immediate medical emergency for which you should call 911. The site adds that heat exhaustion and heat cramps also may require urgent medical attention, depending on their severity.

Watch Out For Others

Certain individuals are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, which is why it's important to keep an eye on your friends, family, and neighbors during heat waves.

The New York State Department of Health explained that you should watch out for "babies, young children, and adults over age 65 who are often less able to regulate body temperature, cool down from sweating, and can get dehydrated more quickly than others." Moreover, the agency indicated that people with disabilities or pre-existing health conditions, as well as people who live alone, are especially prone to experiencing ill effects from high temperatures.

Overall, if you're in an area impacted by the upcoming heat wave, be sure to take proactive steps to ensure your health and safety. Preparation is key in any extreme weather event — and the risks associated with intense heat should not be taken lightly.