These days, I’m an air conditioning wimp.
I don’t have a traumatic history with the heat, myself. Maybe I got heat cramps once at Fort Benning, Ga., during an exercise, but that’s about it.
Still, I do remember what it’s like to live in a hot home in a hot place without the benefit of AC. I grew up in a New Jersey apartment adjacent to New York City with no cross-ventilation, a painted-shut bathroom window and a window fan (cue strings here). The New York metropolitan area is much hotter than Buffalo and typically more humid, more often.
In my childhood, Saturday movie matinees for us kids were the only AC we got, and what a relief it was for a few hours! Five cartoons and a double feature made for bliss. So, that’s my first obvious tip. Find a cheap movie, even if it’s a rotten one. If you don’t have AC, it’ll be worth the cultural sacrifice.
But seriously, folks … I’ve already written general articles on the coming heat wave and heat illness. This one is aimed specifically at those who don’t have air conditioning, those at more physical risk to the heat, or those who will be forced to extended periods of exposure to the heat. Some tips may elicit a “Duh!” Hopefully, most will be genuinely helpful.
Let’s start with hydration. Many of us, myself included, have a tendency to wait until we feel thirst. That’s a bad choice in the heat. By the time that sensation arrives, we’re already running low on fluids. Dehydration can range from mild to severe. When the severe stage is reached, medical treatment is required at once. Groups most at risk are infants, diabetics, and the elderly. Infants can’t tell us when they’re dehydrated, and parents not paying close enough attention may suddenly be faced with a medical emergency.
Those with poorly controlled diabetes are at high risk, as are those with kidney disease. The elderly generally have lower fluid levels and may not feel thirst until they’ve reached moderate levels of dehydration.
The Mayo Clinic website lists some symptoms. Dark, concentrated urine is an early sign you may be headed for trouble. Less frequent urination, dizziness, fatigue and confusion are progressive. For infants and very young children the symptoms are different: Dry mouth and tongue, no tears when crying, no wet diapers for three hours, sunken eyes, cheeks, sunken soft spot on top of skull, listlessness and irritability. All of these symptoms and impacts can be greatly exacerbated if gastrointestinal illness is already present. Vomiting and diarrhea fluid loss plus excessive heat is the worst of all possible combinations.
So, the “Duh!” here is to make every effort to force extra hydration on yourselves and others at greater risk around you.
About keeping cooler when AC is not an option: Blinds and shades can keep 30 percent of the heat load out of your house. Your indoor temperature can be dramatically lowered by judicious use of window covers.
There is a partial myth about fans' not really helping with the heat because “they just blow the hot air around.” That may be true, but blowing the hot air does give your body a better shot at a little more evaporational cooling through perspiration, rather than still hot air. Moreover, the Huffington Post’s Samantha Toscano and Suzy Strutner unknowingly validate my goofy childhood idea of placing some ice in front of a fan. This actually has been shown to have some merit. It can be your mini sea breeze, as long as you’ve got a supply of ice or an ice pack.
Speaking of fans, ceiling fans should be set to run in a counterclockwise direction during summer heat, at a higher speed, to direct more air downward on you. And it’s definitely a good idea to run exhaust fans when you shower or when you cook, to draw the hot air out of the house.
Toscano and Strutner also have a good hint about pillows. Buckwheat pillows (typical guy that I am, I never heard of 'em) are cooler than regular pillows … even that heavily advertised one made by the smiley dude with the mustache. The buckwheat hulls have an airspace between them, so they don’t hang on to the heat the way other pillows do, even in a pillowcase.
Sipping iced drinks and placing cold cloths on your necks and wrists can take your core temperature down a notch.
Here are a couple of ideas I never would have thought of that sound good:
• Sleep with a frozen “hot” water bottle at your feet.
• Changing your sheets, which are preferably cotton? Put 'em in the freezer first before you get into bed in a hot bedroom. Some of this may sound goofy, but conducting cold surfaces can work some wonders.
• So can sleeping “low.” Sleeping close to the floor will be cooler, because hot air rises.
• Using window fans effectively at night will help. Overnight lows in the 70s with high humidity sound sultry, but even that air beats the daytime heated air in the upper 80s and 90s.
• Make certain those fans are not sucking in air during afternoon heating.
• Incandescent lamps do radiate heat into the air, so cut back on their use.
• Outdoor grilling beats using an indoor stove or oven by a landslide. All that extra heat stays outside.
If you or people around you start to succumb to heat illness here again are the symptoms and treatments for the three primary stages.