Toi Degree: Staying cool in the heat

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 29, 2023

By Toi Degree
For the Salisbury Post

Summer is officially here, but we have been experiencing summer-like temperatures even before. We have been in a heat wave with temperatures in the 90 and extreme humidity. These extreme temperatures have made it hard to go out much. Please, be mindful that the hottest time of day is between 3-5 p.m., so planning when to go out is a must. Continue reading for tips to keep you cool if you have to be out during the day:

  • Check the weather for critical updates from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
  • Drink plenty of water even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinking drinks with caffeine and alcohol.
  • Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.
  • Check on your animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat.
  • Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat and take frequent breaks.
  • Eat well-balanced, light and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
  • Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.
  • Protect your face and head by wearing sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Postpone outdoor games and activities.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun. Consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls and other community facilities.

Be aware that extreme heat exposure can have many direct effects on human health (heat stroke, reduced labor productivity), as well as indirect effects (promoting air pollution and increasing asthma attacks).

Heat-related illnesses happen when the body is not able to properly cool itself. While the body normally cools itself by sweating, during extreme heat, this might not be enough. In these cases, a person’s body temperature rises faster than it can cool itself down. This can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs. Types of heat-related illnesses include:

  • Heat cramps — Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are often the first signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.
  • What to look for — heavy sweating, muscle pains or spasms
  • Actions to take: stop physical activity and move to a cooler place, drink water or a sports drink. Seek medical attention if cramps last longer than one hour
  • Heat exhaustion — Typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim’s condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim may suffer heat stroke.
  • Heat stroke — A life-threatening condition. The victim’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. A person who is experiencing heat stroke needs medical attention.

Listen to your body, and if you are sensitive to heat and its effects stay inside as much as you can, but if you have to go out do your best to stay as cool as you can and hydrated!

Toi N. Degree is family and consumer education agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Contact her at 704-216-8970 or

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