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How to keep yourself (and your dog) cool in a heat wave

The heat wave of 2018 is sweeping across the Northern Hemisphere, and it has already claimed lives. Here's how to reduce the risk of heat-related illness in extreme temperatures.
Image: A dog drinks water from a public fountain as temperatures soar throughout the country, in Madrid
A dog drinks water from a public fountain as temperatures soar throughout the country, in Madrid on Aug. 2, 2018.Susana Vera / Reuters

Thanks to climate change, summers are longer and hotter, and we only have more extreme vacillations in temperature to look forward to. According to The Weather Channel, record highs were reported in many cities across the country this past decade — and not in just one region. Globally, “numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere,” experienced their “hottest weather ever recorded” last month, according to The Washington Post.

“Across 50 large U.S. cities over the last 50 years, observed average heat wave frequency, length and intensity has increased significantly,” says Kim Knowlton, senior scientist and deputy director of the Science Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Not to mention that on August 1, South Korea set a new national heat record when the temperature soared to 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit. And Europe is feeling the heat, too as forecasters predict that records will be broken in Spain and Portugal in the coming days.

According to the CDC, an estimated 650-plus people die each year from heat related illnesses.

With extreme heat comes risk of heat-related illness, or hyperthermia. Heat-related illness is no joke: According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 650-plus people die each year from heat related illnesses. “Heat isn’t just an inconvenience: it can kill people,” says Knowlton. “During heat waves, there are also frequent increases in illnesses, hospital admissions and premature mortality among people with heart, kidney and lung ailments.”

The most common heat-induced ailments include:

Heatstroke (also sun stroke)

The most serious heat-related illness, heatstroke is described by The Mayo Clinic as the body “overheating due to prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures.” Symptoms include high body temperature (of 104+), slurred speech or an altered mental state, skin that’s hot to the touch, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, rapid pulse and a pounding headache.

The solve: Suspected heatstroke requires an immediate trip to the emergency room.

Heat exhaustion

A little less severe than heatstroke, symptoms of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating, paleness, weakness, dizziness, tiredness, fainting and nausea.

The solve: Again, seek medical attention immediately.

Heat cramps

Heat cramps are painful muscle pain or spasms that often come with heavy sweating during exercise, says Knowlton.

The solve:

  • Stop and rest
  • Drink something with electrolytes
  • Stretch out where it hurts
  • Don’t resume your workout and seek medical attention if the cramps stick around

Heat rash

Tiny pimples or small clusters of super itchy blisters — also known as “prickly heat” — are basically blocked pores of trapped perspiration.

The solve:

  • Heat rash usually resolves on its own
  • Keep the area dry and cool
  • Dress lightly and in loose, breathable fabrics

Kidney stones

One wouldn’t immediately connect kidney stones — hardened mineral deposits in your kidneys that can pass through the urethra — with heat waves, but Knowlton mentions a study that projects an estimated 1.6 - 2.2 million cases of painful kidney stones might be expected in the U.S. by 2050, as temperatures rise with climate change, increasing dehydration and risk of stone formation.

The solve: Only a doctor can diagnose kidney stones. If you feel sharp pain in your side, back or groin, see changes in your urine (if it’s pink or bloody), have nausea and vomiting, seek medical attention.


Migraines are painful headaches that can present with a wide variety of symptoms. They’re also more common during the summer months: Knowlton mentioneda study of over 7,000 cases of migraine headaches so severe, patients were admitted to the ER — there was a 7.5 percent rise in migraines for every 9°F (5°C) increase in temperature on the preceding day.

The solve: Migraine symptoms vary wildly. If resting or sleeping in a dark quiet room, cold compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers don’t help, see your doctor or neurologist to seek out your best form of treatment.

Knowlton says excess heat can also effect:

  • Diabetics
  • Multiple Sclerosis patients
  • People who take beta blockers and antihistamines,
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with mental illness

How to keep cool in a heat wave

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing
  • Keep your AC set at 75 degrees, or use your Energy Saver setting to do your part in preventing a power outage
  • Walk on the shady side of the street
  • Pace your outdoor activities
  • Avoid alcohol and coffee (they dehydrate you)
  • Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Avoid eating hot, heavy meals
  • Eat fruit with high water content, like watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries and peaches, to help you stay hydrated
  • Drink plenty of non-sugary, non-alcoholic fluids to replace the salt and minerals you sweat out
  • Some prescription meds might make you more sensitive to heat — find out if yours is among them
  • Don’t leave kids or pets in cars – even with windows cracked open
  • Avoid using your oven, stove or dryer until later at night when it cools down
  • Keep shades or curtains drawn to keep your home cooler
  • Check in on elderly neighbors, people with mobility, health, hearing or language barriers

Keep your dog cool, too

Leni Kaplan, DVM, MS, lecturer at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, says your dog’s breed can determine their tolerance for heat or cold. “Arctic dogs do much better in cold temperatures. Dogs with medical conditions, such as laryngeal paralysis, do not tolerate hot temperatures at all. If you question whether it is too hot outside for your dog, then it probably is.”

To keep your dog cool, Kaplan advises dog owners to avoid midday walks — go early in the morning or after sunset, instead. Bring a portable bowl to give your dog water on the go.

Knowlton says dogs are at risk from heat stroke too, especially so-called brachycephalic breeds (dogs with shortened or ‘squished’ faces, like French bulldogs). If your pet is showing its own signs of heat stroke, like a fast heartrate, loud panting, excessive drooling, vomiting, or disorientation, cool their ears, feet and stomach with lukewarm or cool water and get them to a vet ASAP. Also, if your dog starts drinking more than usual, you might want to have them seen by a vet.

If your dog pants heavily, seeks shade or water, or slows down, Kaplan says to:

  • Get them into air conditioning
  • Offer them water
  • Wet or soak their pet’s paws in cool water
  • Wet the pet down with cool water in a bathtub or using a hose
  • Apply a cool compress to their head
  • If you think your dog might be suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, take them to the vet immediately

Though heat waves don’t seem like a big deal, they can be awfully taxing on the body. All the more reason to Netflix and chill when those temperatures rise.


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