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How to stay cool in the heat, even without air conditioning

After 42 years in local TV news, I’m quite aware that tips on how to stay cool during a hot spell usually belabor the obvious and sometimes insult the intelligence. My goal here is to supply you with useful information generally less well-known, based on evidence-based science. These guidelines can help people get through the excessive heat that is to come. So as not to be Captain Obvious, many of these tips are aimed at those who don’t have much access to air-conditioning.

Let there be no doubt these coming days will be sultry and often oppressive by Western New York standards. In Tampa or Houston, the numbers we face wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but we are not acclimated to lengthy periods of heat and humidity. Projected high temperatures make it plain the heat will be widespread across much of the nation.

Part of our problem is a lack of acclimation to this kind of humid heat for lengthy periods. As of this writing, it appears we will lose much of the helpful breeze on Saturday, making it feel hotter near Buffalo than on Friday. The sultry nights during this period add to the stress, especially for infants and the elderly.

So, what steps can you take if you don’t have air-conditioning?

Stay downstairs. Hot air rises, and the first floor will be cooler than the upstairs level. If you have a cot or a couch in the basement, that’s even better because cool air sinks.

Avoid using incandescent bulbs, which generate heat. Computers left running also give off heat.

Don’t cook if you can avoid it. Eat cool foods. With cool water, that will keep the kitchen cooler and keep you cooler as well.

Avoid high-protein meals. Your body generates more metabolic heat to digest high protein foods.

Cool water remains the best fluid for hydration. When I worked in Tampa, I interviewed the inventor of Gatorade, the University of Florida football team doctor. I recall him saying most people didn’t need to worry about replacing electrolytes if not under physical stress. Construction workers, roofers, utilities repair crews and the like are a different story. They undergo tremendous fluid loss in the heat.

Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water. By then, you’re entering an early stage of dehydration. All these decades later, I recall the Fort Benning base surgeon hammering us about this before summer training in Georgia. Coaches and trainers (hopefully) are fully aware of this concept.

Habitual runners need to take a break from running in these conditions. Even if you’re in good condition you don’t really need to suck it up, buttercup.

A reminder: caffeine and alcohol (even more so) are diuretics. That cold beer feels great going down, but you will lose more fluid than you take in sticking with beer. Drinking water between beers is well advised, even if your pal gives you a funny look.

Ceiling fans can produce a bit of evaporative cooling on your skin. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

Even in hot and humid conditions, fans CAN make a difference. In the relatively cooler evenings, opening doors and windows and using a box fan on exhaust in a window will draw some of that cooler outdoor air into the house overnight. Then, close the doors and windows during the day to trap the cooler air in the house. Ceiling fans, even in the humid air, can produce a bit of evaporative cooling on your skin.

If the heat just gets to be too much in a particularly hot home, give yourself a break and go to a mall or some other air-conditioned public place for a few hours of relief. (Just remember to cover up enough so that you don’t end up on a viral video.)

If you don’t have the energy to get to a cool place, placing your feet in chilly water can work wonders. A cool wet cloth can do the same.  Naturally, cool showers can bring great relief and may lower your core body temperature.

Finally, know the symptoms of the stages of heat sickness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the symptoms and recommended treatments, with the most dangerous form of heat sickness – heat stroke – right at the top.

Symptoms of heat stroke require prompt emergency medical attention, since it can be fatal to the victim.

We also need to think even more than usual about our pets. From MedicineNet, here are helpful and potentially life-saving tips on keeping pets comfortable and safe:

“Remember that pets also suffer when the temperature rises. Cooling animals (dogs, rabbits, cats) by giving them a 'cool' bath or shower will help keep their body temperature down. A cool towel on a tile floor to lay on, a cool towel or washcloth laying over the skin next to a fan will also help cool the animal. Make sure they have plenty of cool water to drink as well. Signs of a heat stroke in a pet are:

  • rapid panting,
  • wide eyes,
  • lots of drooling,
  • hot skin,
  • twitching muscles,
  • vomiting and
  • a dazed look.
  • Call your vet if you think your pet has a heat stroke.”
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