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How to Survive a Heat Wave

In this article we talk about how to survive a heat wave by recognizing heat stress symptoms and learning to mitigate the effects of hot weather on the body.

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It's pretty common to experience a heat wave during the summer months.

You know, that week of unbearably hot weather that has everyone creeping from one air-conditioned space to another? 

When it’s particularly bad, even the road workers and construction workers take a few days off. 

Unfortunately, heatwaves can be more than uncomfortable, they can be downright dangerous.

In July and August of 2003, a particularly nasty heat wave swept over Europe and killed around 70,000 people!

In fact, heat waves are one of the deadliest forms of extreme weather.

So, when a heat wave settles in, what can you do to stay safe?  Do you know how to survive a heat wave?

Considering the changing global climate and increased frequency and intensity of heat waves, you may even be asking yourself “What can I do to adapt and prepare for extended heatwaves in the future?” 

Fortunately, surviving a heat wave is pretty easy. It includes knowing how to recognize heat stress symptoms and how to mitigate the effects of hot weather on the body.

You should also learn how to take certain actions to minimize the heat in your home to create a safe environment with a more moderate temperature than outdoors.

Scorching Sun rays creating a heatwave

In this article, we’ll talk about all that and other heat wave survival tips you need to successfully suffer through the heat outside and cope with the hot weather.

In a hurry? If you just want to get to our conclusions, here are our top picks and recommendations!

Last update on 2024-07-15 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

How a Heat Wave Affects the Body

Considering that surviving a heat wave means keeping your body physically safe, let’s start this informational guide by talking about how extreme heat affects you.

Our bodies are well designed to maintain a consistent internal temperature of around 98.6 degrees.

When we experience heat, our natural systems kick into gear to keep us cool. 

First, we sweat. Then we start to flush as our heart circulates blood faster and closer to the surface of our skin. Sweating cools our bodies through evaporation.

Blood circulating closer to the surface of the skin will be cooled off by this evaporation and releases heat from deep inside the body. 

Most of the time, this system works. Sometimes, it can’t keep up and starts to malfunction.

The heat can just be too much. 

If you are over the age of 65 or suffer from any kind of neurological or cardiac condition, you are at a higher risk of your body’s natural cooling system malfunctioning under the stress of hot weather. 

Four main illnesses result from prolonged extreme heat exposure:

  1. Heat Rash
  2. Heat Cramps
  3. Heat Exhaustion
  4. Heat Stroke

To survive a heat wave, you must learn the symptoms of heat stress to be able to recognize when your body is struggling.

It is even more important that you know what to do to treat them.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these. 

Heat Rash

This is the mildest of the heat related conditions. Heat rash is uncomfortable, but not deadly. If you are hot and sweaty, sweat may become trapped under blocked pores in your skin.

The result?  A bumpy, red, rash will form that may or may not be dry or itchy.  Heat rash usually pops up in folds of skin (like around the neck in babies) or where clothing may be tight fitting.

How to prevent heat rash: Avoid dressing too warmly and use loose fitting clothes. Avoid activities that make you sweat profusely or avoid sweating altogether.

When it’s serious: If the heat rash is really inflamed and very itchy, it may be infected. If you notice pus draining from the blisters, you should probably seek medical attention, especially if your lymph nodes are swollen.

How to treat heat rash: Wash, cool the skin, and keep it dry. Try to avoid sweating if possible. To relieve any itching, apply aloe vera gel, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the affected area.

Most important – don't scratch the rash to  void a potential infection.

Last update on 2024-07-15 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are involuntary spasms in your arms or legs that can literally knock you off your feet.

They usually occur as a result of doing physical activity in extreme heat conditions. They normally happen because of heavy sweating and electrolyte loss.

How to prevent heat cramps: If you choose to do strenuous physical activity, be sure to keep yourself well hydrated and consider drinking a sports drink with electrolytes.

Avoid hard exercise on particularly hot days. If physical labor cannot be avoided, be sure to drink plenty of electrolyte containing fluids or simple saltwater.

When it’s serious: If the cramps don't relax after an hour or so, you may want to head into the doctor.

If you experience dizziness, have a fever, are nauseous or vomiting, or have trouble walking – head to the clinic right away.

How to treat heat cramps:  First, move to a cool area. To replenish electrolytes, add ¼ teaspoon of regular table salt to a quart of water.

Drink this saltwater and rest. The cramps should go away on their own


Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion happens when your body starts to stress under prolonged exposure to high heat conditions.

It is not as serious as heat stroke, but if you do not recognize the symptoms, it can quickly evolve into heat stroke - putting your life in danger.  

You may have heat exhaustion if you feel faint or dizzy, have nausea, or develop a headache. You may also notice that you feel weak, or have low blood pressure when you stand up.

A fast but weak pulse and cool and clammy skin are also common symptoms.

How to prevent heat exhaustion: The best way to prevent heat exhaustion is to stay hydrated. If you are doing any kind of exercise or physical activity, make sure your water contains electrolytes.

It is also important to take steps to support your body in staying cool.  Dress in lightweight, loose fitting clothing, and stay out of the direct sun if possible. Avoid alcohol.

When it’s serious: Heat exhaustion should never be taken lightly.   When you notice symptoms, take action immediately to cool down your body. If cooling off proves to be difficult, take your temperature.

If it's over 102 degrees and doesn't go down quickly, seek medical attention. Untreated heat exhaustion can quickly turn into heat stroke.

How to treat heat exhaustion: Treating heat exhaustion is not complicated. Immediately stop all physical activity and move to a cool place to rest and cool off.

Damp cloths may be applied to the neck and the forehead. Drink electrolyte containing water and limit all physical activity until fully recovered. 

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most severe of the impacts that hot weather can have on your body. It needs to be taken very seriously. 

Somebody who is experiencing heat stroke will have a high body temperature while simultaneously feeling dry and hot to the touch.

They may have a racing heart rate and shallow rapid breathing. You may notice that a person suffering from heat stroke is confused, slurring their speech, irritable, or highly agitated.

How to prevent heat stroke: Preventing heat stroke is as easy as preventing other heat related illnesses. Make every effort to stay cool, avoid strenuous physical activity, and be sure to drink lots of fluids.

You should also be aware of any medications you may be taking and how those may increase your risk for heat stroke. 

When it’s serious:  Heat stroke is very dangerous. You should call emergency services immediately if you suspect someone has it.

When the body's temperature reaches 104 degrees it can lead to serious complications that require medical intervention. Organs can swell, including the brain, and death can result. 

How to treat heat stroke: When you've identified that someone has heat stroke, you need to take immediate action to treat them while you wait for emergency services to arrive. 

Cool the person by whatever means you may have available to you. Put them into a cool bath, spray them with cool water, place cold packs on their head and neck, etc.

Help them take off any extra clothing they can do without. 

Here's a video from ABC News explaining more about heat waves.

Hot Weather Safety Tips

You may have noticed that all of the heat related illnesses can be prevented by taking some simple precautions.

Keep the following tips in mind and you should have no problem surviving a heat wave.

  1. Stay hydrated. This is the most important thing you can do to prevent heat stress on your body. 
  2. Drink electrolytes if you will be exercising or doing strenuous physical activity.
  3. Wear loose fitting, lightweight clothing.
  4. When outdoors wear a sun hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  5. Avoid alcohol.
  6. Avoid prolonged periods in direct sunlight.
  7. Know if you are at higher risk because of age or the medications you are taking, and be extra cautious if you are.
  8. Avoid physical activity during the hottest part of the day.

Last update on 2024-07-15 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Keeping yourself and your loved ones physically safe during a heat wave requires constant awareness of our bodies to monitor for heat stress symptoms.

It also requires us to be creative in how we beat the heat inside our homes and work environments.

Heat Wave Survival Tips for the Home

When it’s blistering hot outside, the simple solution for most people is to crank up the air and hunker down indoors.  

The only issue with this plan is that it is dependent on electricity. 

What happens if all of a sudden everyone and their brother are cranking up the AC and the electrical grid can't handle the increased demand?

Depending on the circumstances, your area might be subject to rolling blackouts.

Rolling blackouts can also happen during a public safety power shutoff (PSPS). PSPS's are common in times of intensely hot dry weather to prevent forest fires in areas of high fire risk. 

Right when you need the AC most, the electrical grid can fail you.

How to Beat the Heat Naturally with No AC

While nearly 90% of homes in the United States have air conditioning systems nowadays, it’s been less than 100 years since the technology was invented and became widely used. 

People knew how to survive a heatwave 100 years ago. It makes sense to look to our past to learn to cope with the hot weather in our homes today.

Here are some time tested tricks that require no electricity for how to cope with hot weather.

Do not leave your windows open all day. It might seem natural to open your windows during the day to allow for a breeze to pass through your home.

When you leave your windows open all day, however, you are actually letting the heat in. 

Instead, open your windows in the evening after the sun lowers in the sky and temps start to cool off. Leave them open all night and in the morning, close them before the sun gets too high in the sky.

If you have a window on a shady side of your house, feel free to leave it open a crack to let in a fresh breeze.

Cover your windows. This can be as simple as lowering your blinds or closing your curtains once you close your windows. You may also want to invest in a heat reflective film to place over the glass.

Honeycomb insulation blinds are also a smart investment for the home if your goal is to be prepared for future heat waves.

Last update on 2024-07-15 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Water is your best friend. If you can, take plenty of showers. A nice shower in the heat of the day is refreshing and will keep you feeling cool for an hour or two.

Use damp cloths around your neck and consider placing your feet in some water if you will be sitting for a while.

Avoid activity during peak heat. This sounds kind of obvious, but way back in the day people worked when it made sense to, not according to the time on the clock.

If you can, adjust your schedule and do any physically demanding outdoor activities in the morning or late afternoon. Consider there to be two shifts: 5am to 10am and 4pm to 8pm.

Avoid working in the afternoon hours when the sun is the hottest.

Cook strategically. If you have an outdoor grill, use it. Avoid cooking as much as possible inside your house, especially during those afternoon hours. Cook your breakfast and lunch as early as possible before closing the windows.

Cook your dinner after you've opened your windows again in the evening. Better yet, choose fresh foods and salads that require little to no heat to prepare.

Remember, heat rises. Avoid upstairs rooms, and if you have the option, head to a basement to find cooler temps.

If you have electricity, but no air conditioning, you have another great option: fans.

In the evenings and throughout the night, leave strategically placed fans running to push the heat out of the house and draw cool air in. 

Even if you only have one fan, you can cool specific rooms in your home, one at a time, lowering the overall indoor temperature.

Try placing a dish of ice cubes under your fan for some added freshness.

Last update on 2024-07-15 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Preparing for the Heat Waves of the Future

As we’ve mentioned, dramatic heat waves are happening more frequently as our planet warms up. 

As preppers, we need to ask ourselves the following question. 

Should we take each heat wave as it comes, or are there measures we can take to become more resilient so that when a heat wave arrives, we are prepared to handle it? 

Sorry to say it, but planning on just cranking up the AC is not the best heat wave emergency plan.

In the long run, you need to have a heat wave strategy that is sustainable and helps you cope with the hot weather naturally.

Here are some things you may want to consider incorporating into your home to make those future heat waves less intense while minimizing your reliance on air conditioning.

  • Consider building your home with a basement or creating an underground (or semi-underground) refuge on your property.
  • Improve the insulation in your home. Pay particular attention to the roof and walls that receive direct sunlight.
  • If building a new home, incorporate architectural features that help mitigate the heat.
  • If it is feasible where you live, consider planting shade giving trees or dense shrubs along the side of your home that receives the most sun.
  • Paint your home white.
  • Install a living green roof.

When you do any of these permanent changes to your home, you are making it more apt for withstanding hotter temperatures in the future. 

Heat Wave Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I help my pets survive a heat wave? Provide your pets with a constant supply of fresh cool water.

Make sure that you limit their exercise while outdoors and provide them lots of shade during a heat wave.

Consider setting up a kiddie pool for your dog to wade into if there are no natural bodies of water around. 

NEVER leave your pet unattended in a car, even if the air conditioning is on.

Heat stroke can affect pets as well. If you see your pet vomiting, stumbling, or having a seizure you need to act fast.

Cool them off with ice packs or cool water, and get them to the vet immediately.

Why do I need to replenish electrolytes? Electrolytes are basically different kinds of salts that float around in our bodies.

They are incredibly important because they allow the transmission of the electrical impulses that control all the movements of the muscles and organs in our bodies. When we sweat, we lose electrolytes through the pores of our skin. 

When we sweat profusely, we can lose so many electrolytes that an imbalance can develop. This imbalance is one of the root causes of heat cramps and other complications caused by heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Your body needs them to function properly. 

Luckily, electrolytes are not hard to come by. In a pinch, you can drink water that has a little table salt mixed in.

If you want to get fancy, try mixing the juice of ½ a lemon into 2 cups of water. Add to that an 1/8 tsp. of salt and 2 tsp. of sugar or honey. 

Make sure to replenish your electrolytes during a heat wave to avoid heat stress on your body.

Stay Cool!

We hope you’ve found our safety tips useful in this guide on how to survive a heat wave.

Remember - when the temperature rises outside, pay attention to your body. Take action immediately if you do not feel well. 

Open your windows in the evening and maybe buy yourself a fan. 

When you get some free time and extra money, invest in heat proofing your house to create a natural refuge from the hot weather to come.

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

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