How to keep your cool: These tips may help you avoid a heat-related illness

The West is currently experiencing a massive heat wave that’s setting record daily high temperatures across the region, resulting in more than 40 million Americans in eight states being under heat warnings.

While people may power up their air conditioners and blast their fans to escape the heat, places such as California and Texas have been advised by power companies to conserve energy to avoid possible rolling blackouts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that over 700 people die annually from extreme heat in the United States. As more places in the country could face higher temperatures as the season goes on, here are some expert tips to stay cool for now and the rest of an expected hot summer.

How to keep your cool: These tips may help you avoid a heat-related illness

What happens to your body when it is hot?

Dr. Daniel Vigil, a health science clinical professor at UCLA, told USA TODAY the human body reacts if the core temperature is too hot or too cold. In the case of dealing with extreme heat, when the body temperature gets into the 100 degrees range, things such as liver and kidney failure, as well as brain dysfunction may occur.

“Your body just starts to fail,” Vigil said.

Are heat waves the new normal?:Abnormal temperatures are baking the Western US in triple digits.

Signs your body is suffering from heat

Signs of heat-related illness include headaches, dizziness, nausea and confusion, according to the CDC.

Dr. David Nester from the Mayo Clinic told reporters on Wednesday there are different levels of heat illness.

He says the first thing is heat cramps, which also include heavy sweating and thirst. Next is heat exhaustion, which includes a rapid heart rate. The last, and most severe level, is heatstroke which can cause permanent damage to your body.

“This is a true medical emergency,” Nester said. “It can absolutely result in death.”

Too hot to handle:Heat in Midwest causes roads to buckle

Who is susceptible to heat illness?

The CDC says young children, people 65 and older, and those who are overweight or physically ill are at a higher risk of succumbing to extreme heat.

When places known for their cooler weather, like Denver, experience extreme heat, it may feel different than someone that lives in Southern California, Vigil said. He added it has to do with the concept of acclimatization, or adjusting to a new environment.

“If you’re in a place where you’re just not used to having such an abrupt heat elevation, your body’s not used to it, you’re not climatized. So your ability to dissipate heat, and to maintain a proper body temperature, is going to be challenged,” Vigil said.

What if I don’t have an AC unit or a cool place to be in?

Dr. Grant Lipman, clinical professor of emergency medicine at Stanford, told USA TODAY that one of the easiest ways to cool down is to avoid humid areas and maximize your body’s evaporative cooling.

“Get a spray bottle, get a fan, put the two together and spray yourself with water and fanning it down,” Lipman said. “You’re basically inducing more evaporative cooling, so I think that’s the easy fix.”

Lipman added that if you or someone you know is suffering from the heat, the best immediate thing to do is cool them down.

“Cover their head with cold water to get that wet cooling going because every second that’s delayed, you have cells that are being destroyed and the mortality goes up significantly,” he said.

Staying hydrated…

Drinking water and staying hydrated may seem the obvious thing to do when it’s hot, but it’s actually not that simple.

“(People) shouldn’t just drink plain water all day, they should try to have something with it. A juice is fine, and this is where the sports drinks actually really come in handy,” Nestler said.

Vigil said a reason why people shouldn’t drink just water is because when the body sweats, there are some electrolytes in the sweat which sports drinks can help replenish.

Vigil and Lipman also both warn that drinking too much water can cause water intoxication, which can be fatal.

“Try not more than a liter per hour and be eating salty snacks at the same time,” Lipman said.

…but not with alcohol

As perfect as a cold beer sounds on a hot day, Lipman said drinking excess amounts of alcohol isn’t the best thing to do because it increases urination and dehydration, meaning people can get hotter faster.

“Excess alcohol with excess heat is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Things not to do

Lipman said there are multiple things people shouldn’t do like stay in direct sunlight for too long or not wear sunscreen, and he highlighted the importance of having a plan.

“Everyone realizes that they have a plan of cold weather by bundling up in layers, people don’t think of how they can prepare for this hot weather by taking some simple precautions,” Lipman said. “The reality is that you can get a whole bunch of trouble really easily in these kinds of conditions.”

Vigil added that people shouldn’t ignore symptoms of heat stress, as taking action may save someone.

“For a person to recognize it or for a friend to recognize it in the suffering person and do something about it is not just appropriate, but actually could be life-saving,” he said.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jord_mendoza.

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