Everyone knows that high heat can make you uncomfortable. But it’s easy to underestimate just how big of an impact it can have on your health. When temperatures rise and you don’t have a way to cool off, it can affect your body (and your mind) in a number of important ways.
The Health Consequences of High Heat
These are just some of the ways that high heat can affect your health:
- Sweating and dehydration. Everyone knows that excessive heat will make you sweat. In fact, this is a good thing – it’s your body’s primary cooling mechanism. However, if you sweat too much, and you don’t drink enough water to replace that lost hydration, you could become dehydrated. Even mild forms of dehydration can lead to confusion, dizziness, and fatigue.
- Heat rash. If the weather is hot and humid, forcing you to sweat excessively, your sweat glands may eventually become blocked. If the blockage persists, you’ll break out in a series of small red bumps. Though uncomfortable, this condition will likely go away on its own over time.
- Heat edema. High temperatures can also lead to swelling in the fingers, toes, ankles, and other areas of your body, making your skin feel tight. If you experience this, in addition to cooling yourself down, you can elevate your legs to reduce the swelling.
- Heart and circulatory issues. Heat can also exacerbate existing cardiovascular and blood circulation issues. Higher temperatures can lead to a higher heart rate, lower blood pressure, and a host of other problems. If you’re already suffering from a preexisting heart condition, or if you have a family history of cardiac problems, you need to take this possibility seriously.
- Heat exhaustion and heatstroke. If your body temperature continues to rise unabated, you might experience heat exhaustion; you’ll feel weak, tired, and nauseous and might have trouble finding your bearings. Heatstroke occurs when your body temperature goes even higher, sometimes reaching as high as 104 degrees F. At this point, your skin will become dry, your pulse will accelerate, and you may experience a headache or nausea. Heatstroke is a medical emergency; if left untreated, it can lead to seizures, coma, or even death. It’s important to cool yourself down as soon as possible if you get to this stage.
How to Cool Off in High Heat
Fortunately, there are several ways you can cool off in high heat:
- Install (and use) an air conditioner. These days, installing a residential air conditioning unit is inexpensive and convenient. Central air is powerful and can cool the whole home, but even a window unit can make a big difference. Of course, if you’re without electricity, if your air conditioner isn’t working, or if you can’t afford an AC unit, this may not be an option for you.
- Stay in shade (or indoors). Working, walking, or even just sitting in the sun for too long can make the heat much worse. Instead, try to stay in a shady area if you must be outside – and prioritize staying inside when possible.
- Drink a lot of cold water. Drinking lots of water and staying hydrated is good for your health even when it’s not hot. During heat waves, it’s even more important. You’ll replenish the moisture you naturally lose through sweat and simultaneously introduce something cold to your body, leaving you feeling refreshed.
- Utilize fans. Fans circulate air. Moving air accelerates the rate at which sweat evaporates from your body, making you feel cooler and cooling down your body temperature faster. Even if you have to use a makeshift fan, like a newspaper, this technique can be effective.
- Cool clothes and sheets in the refrigerator. It may seem a bit strange, but this technique can help cool you significantly. Store some clothes, sheets, and other materials in the refrigerator before you wear them or use them. You’ll instantly feel cooler.
- Take a cool shower. If you have access to your shower, try to take a shower with cool water. The water will function like sweat, absorbing and removing heat from your body. And when you’re out, that cooling effect should persist for at least a few hours.
- Find community resources. Chances are, your local community has resources dedicated to helping people stay cool during the summer. Contact your local health department to find out where you can find public air conditioned spaces, public pools, or other forms of medical assistance during a heat wave.
There’s not much you can do about external temperatures or excessive sunlight, but you can take control over your own body temperature and subjective comfort. The negative health consequences of high heat are too serious to ignore, so take the heat seriously and prioritize your own wellbeing.