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Life Kit: How To Beat The Heat


This week, officials in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada are blaming the extreme heat that gripped much of the region in recent days for hundreds of deaths. The worst of that particular heat wave has passed, but experts warn that excessive heat will be a growing problem around the globe going forward, including here in the U.S. Here's Paul Schramm with the Climate Health Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PAUL SCHRAMM: Climate change is causing heat waves in the United States to be more frequent and more intense.

MCCAMMON: And as we've just seen in the Pacific Northwest, those heat waves pose a big risk to human health.

RENEE SALAS: Heat is one of the most dangerous natural disasters that we have. And a recent study actually estimated that upwards of 12,000 people die each year from heat waves.

MCCAMMON: Dr. Renee Salas is an emergency medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

SALAS: As we get exposed to heat, our body has ways to dissipate it and to keep us cool. But when we are exposed to certain environments and certain extreme temperatures, sometimes, our body just can't keep up.

MCCAMMON: So this holiday weekend, we wanted to share some tips from the experts on how to stay safer in the heat, starting with the basics, like drinking enough water. Schramm says staying hydrated is very important so our bodies can produce the sweat they need to keep cool. But stay away from your favorite beer or cocktail.

SCHRAMM: We recommend avoiding alcohol during extreme temperatures. People should be drinking water, sports drinks or clear juices to help stay hydrated.

MCCAMMON: Schramm also recommends wearing light-colored clothes that don't absorb heat from the sun. Dr. Salas seconds that and adds this advice.

SALAS: The other thing is to try to have as much skin exposed to allow that evaporation of sweat to occur and wearing loose fitting clothing just like you would at the beach.

MCCAMMON: Now this next part may sound obvious, but when dealing with extreme heat, it's very important to find the coolest space possible to be in. If you need to be outside, that could mean a shady spot. And of course, nothing beats an indoor air conditioned room. But if you don't have access to air conditioning, Dr. Salas recommends going to the coolest part of your home, like a basement if you have one.

SALAS: Try to keep your house as cool as possible by covering windows to keep the sun out, not using your oven or things that will actually heat up the inside of your house, opening up the house when it's cool, like in the morning, and using fans to try to bring that cool air in.

MCCAMMON: She says fans can also help the body get rid of heat by moving air around so our sweat evaporates faster.

SALAS: We also have to recognize that when it's really hot, fans are just moving around hot air and won't be enough.

MCCAMMON: Paul Schramm with the CDC agrees electric fans won't help much once the temperature reaches the high 90s. And in any case, he says that if you're having trouble staying cool at home for any reason, don't hesitate to look for a cooling center nearby.

SCHRAMM: That might be something like a community center, a public library. Even some places of business, such as a coffee shop, a movie theater or a mall, might operate as a cooling center. You can do that by looking at local information through your local media or your city or county's website.

MCCAMMON: His message to anyone experiencing a heat wave - stay cool, stay hydrated and stay informed. And don't forget to check in on anyone who may be especially vulnerable in a heat wave, like your elderly neighbor or friend.

Thanks to our colleagues at NPR's Life Kit for their help with this segment. For more Life Kit, you can visit npr.org/lifekit.

(SOUNDBITE OF NELLY'S "HOT IN HERRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.