Here's how experts recommend staying safe and cool in extreme heat

·6-min read

A rare weather pattern has caused a heat dome to form over the Pacific Northwest, leading to record-high temperatures. On Monday, temperatures in Seattle hit 107 degrees — an all-time record high for the city — while Salem, Ore., saw temperatures as high as 117 degrees. Portland, Ore., also saw record temperatures for three days in a row.

PORTLAND, OR - JUNE 27: Kids play at Sellwood Park Pool in Portland, Oregon on June 27, 2021. A record-breaking heat wave spans throughout the Pacific Northwest through Monday, with highs breaking Portlands record of 107 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in 1981. (Photo by Alisha Jucevic for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Kids play at Sellwood Park Pool in Portland, Oregon on June 27, 2021. A record-breaking heat wave spans throughout the Pacific Northwest, with highs breaking Portlands record of 107 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in 1981. (Photo by Alisha Jucevic for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On Monday, the National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings for many areas of Washington and Oregon, and parts of California, Idaho and Nevada. Washington Governor Jay Inslee said on MSNBC that the heat wave is due to climate change, noting that this "is the beginning of a permanent emergency. That is why it is so disturbing."

If you're living through a heat wave, it's understandable to have questions about what actions you can take to stay cool. Tweets are cropping up with advice on everything to do, from blacking out windows to choosing a "cool room" for your home. 

Here's how experts recommend you soldier through a heat wave while staying safe and cool. 

Stay out of the sun

If your home has air conditioning, stay indoors and use it, FEMA-certified natural disaster preparedness instructor Cheryl Nelson tells Yahoo Life. But, if your house doesn't have A/C, she recommends visiting a cooling center, library, shopping mall or "any public place that has air conditioning." 

"If you're at home at night without air conditioning, keep your windows open for ventilation and sleep on the lowest level of your home — cold air sinks, hot air rises," Nelson says. 

Run fans for added ventilation

If you have ceiling fans, Nelson recommends keeping the blades spinning counterclockwise. "When your ceiling fan spins fast in this direction, air is pushed down, creating a cool breeze," she says. Just have portable fans? "If you have a lot of ice, put the ice in a tray and place it in front of a fan. The fan's air blowing over the ice will help cool your space," Nelson says.

Focus on hydrating foods

The foods you eat can help keep you hydrated, along with drinking liquids. "During a heat wave, I recommend eating vegetables and fruits such as cucumbers, celery, lettuce, strawberries and melons," Nelson says. She says that soup is a "good choice" because of its sodium content, which can help replace lost electrolytes. (You can enjoy it cold if warm soup on a hot day feels like too much.)

Stick to smaller meals

"Digestion heats the body up," Dr. Mark Conroy, emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. That's why he suggests eating smaller meals throughout the day. "If you know you'll be hungry, it's best to eat a larger breakfast when it's still cool out, and a larger dinner later at night when it's also cooler," he says.

At the same time, be aware that you may need to eat more overall during the day. "Your caloric needs and water losses are increased" in high temperatures, Dr. Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of emergency medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells Yahoo Life.

Keep your windows and shades closed during the day

This helps keep out heat generated by the sun, Nelson says. If you don't have air conditioning, she recommends opening your windows and shades at night to let cooler air in for circulation, and to let any heat that built up inside during the day escape.

Keep tabs on the temperature in your home

If you don't have air conditioning, it can get hotter inside your home than it is outdoors — even with the windows open, Nelson says. "It might be cooler outside if you can find a shady tree to sit under," he says. 

Try to avoid running energy-intense appliances

Appliances like your dryer and oven "will only add more heat to your house," Nelson says. If you can, try to use them when outdoor temperatures are cooler. 

Take cool — not cold — showers

"If you take a cold shower or bath immediately after being in the heat, rapid changes can occur in your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate," Nelson says. Cold showers and baths will also cause shivering, which heats up your body, she points out. Her recommendation: Take a shower with cool water and, if you feel particularly overheated, apply ice packs to your head, neck, wrists and other pulse points to stay cool.

Keep doors open inside your home if you don't have air conditioning

This keeps the flow of air moving, Nelson says. "At night, the open windows in the front and back of your home create a cross breeze to circulate air throughout your home to cool it down," she advises.

Push the fluids

"On hot days, you're going to have to drink a little more than expected," Conroy says. A typical goal for fluid intake is 64 ounces but, "when the temperature is 100 degrees or higher, you may need to double that," he says. 

"Water is the mainstay of keeping hydrated, but water alone is insufficient and may be dangerous," Dr. Nelson says. (It can flush out your electrolytes, leaving you feeling sluggish, Conroy says.) "If at all possible, more than two or three bottles of plain water should not be used without food or other electrolyte supplementation," Dr. Nelson says.

It's also a good idea to avoid alcohol and heavily caffeinated beverages since they can dehydrate you, Conroy says. 

Conroy recommends keeping an eye out for the signs of heat exhaustion, which can include:

  • Heavy sweating

  • Cold, pale and clammy skin

  • Fast, weak pulse

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Muscle cramps

  • Tiredness or weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Headache

  • Fainting

If you experience those, Conroy recommends getting out of direct sunlight, drinking water and applying ice packs to your body. "Removed soaked clothing and allow your body to cool," he says. And, if you start throwing up, your symptoms get worse, or they last for more than an hour, it's time to seek medical attention.

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