Everyone should watch out for heat – and some of us really aren’t ready for it.
Some people are vulnerable physically, such as older adults, infants and children – all of whom don’t sweat as well as most people. Others are vulnerable because of underlying conditions: people with heart and lung conditions, asthma sufferers, people who are overweight, people with diabetes. (Yes, pets are vulnerable, too.)
Why Everyone Is at Risk From Extreme Weather, Climate Change and Other Conditions
Your body isn’t prepared for sudden heat spikes.
It’s possible to get used to heat – but not overnight.
“It takes almost two weeks for your body to acclimate to the heat,” says Dr. Naveena Bobba, who directs Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
You don’t need triple-digit temperatures for heat to be a threat in the Bay Area.
Even 85 degrees can be dangerous; in San Francisco, health officials say they start keeping an eye out when temperatures get that high. People who live in cooler climates can get heat-sick at lower temperatures, partly because they can't adjust quickly. And when nighttime temperatures rise, it deprives people of the ability to cool down overnight – before temperatures heat up their bodies again the next day.
Where you live can make you more vulnerable to extreme heat.
When the Bay Area had a major heat wave in 2017, 79% of people killed by heat began to get sick at home. In Contra Costa and in Santa Clara counties, homes that had their temperature and humidity measured over a period of time became hotter inside than out, and held onto heat longer. At night, houses might be 15-20 degrees warmer inside than it is outside.
That’s a problem for people who can’t afford or don’t have air conditioning, says the Public Health Institute’s Linda Rudolph: “When the nighttime temperatures don't go down, which is what's increasingly happening with climate change, it's harder for them to get that kind of physiological rest period.”
DO: Drink lots of water.
"People lose huge amounts of fluid from their body when it's hot. So the key message is drink, drink, drink – nonalcoholic, please,” says Dr. Gina Solomon, with the Public Health Institute.
DO: Check on your neighbors.
“During these unprecedented times, it's most important that we're neighborly and that we care for those who may be vulnerable to the impacts of [wildfire] smoke, heat and the virus,” says Dr. Rohan Radhakrishna, director of the California Department of Public Health's Office of Health Equity.
DO: Take cool baths or showers.
An all-over drench is great, but there are other ways to cool down quickly, like freezing a bandana and putting it around your neck (efficient), or sticking your head inside the freezer (inefficient).