Summer Heat Wave: Tips to Beat the Heat

Are you feeling hot, hot, hot? The year's worst heat wave yet is underway and residents from Maine to Ohio are dealing with scorching temperatures and pulse-pumping humidity.

Heat advisories and warnings have already been issued throughout most of the Northeast, and it's only expected to get worse as warm temperatures move west, forcing millions to live and work in broiling temperatures approaching 100 degrees.

Washington, D.C., issued a hyperthermia alert Monday after a 96-degree heat index, a measure of heat and humidity, and urged residents to find air-conditioning and drink plenty of water.

New York is seeing its largest stretch of heat in more than a decade. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned about the oppressive days to come, encouraging residents to seek relief at cooling centers around the city.

Heat and humidity will peak by Thursday, when the heat index is expected to hit a blistering 115 degrees. The combination of extremely high heat and humidity can be especially hazardous to the very old and the very young.

"People who are the most susceptible to heat wave complications are younger infants and kids, seniors and middle-age people who have chronic diseases," said Dr. George Kikano, chairman of the department of family medicine and community health at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

To avoid problems like heat exhaustion and heat stroke, most know the basics: be aware of the temperature and stay hydrated. Also, modify activities, if possible, to avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day. When outside, wear loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored clothing.

But what else can you do around the house to keep cool? Here are some more tips to cope in temperatures that feel like the triple digits.

  • No air conditioning? Make a homemade air conditioner using a fan and bowl of ice. The fan's breeze will blow across the ice cubes and, as they melt, ice-cooled air will spread and help cool off a small space, like a bedroom or kitchen.
  • Another way to simulate A/C is to hang a wet towel filled with ice from a desk or table and position it near a fan, which will blow colder air around the room. Be sure to place a bucket underneath to collect the melting ice.
  • Cool off by spraying yourself with water from a spray bottle in the fridge. It's a cheap and an easy way to lower your body temperature. Be sure to "spray your upper chest, arms and face to cool down," Kikano says.
  • Make your freezer your friend. Put household items in the freezer and use them to cool down. Anything from towels to pillowcases can be tucked in the freezer and pulled out during peak afternoon heat hours or overnight to cool off.
  • Sleep in the basement to stay cool. "I see many people go down to the basement, where things are much cooler and less humid," Kikano says.
  • Cover windows that receive a ton of sun with shades or towels to keep your house cooler. Turn off the lights, when possible, to reduce energy use.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Cold beverages and water will help cool down the body.
  • Mind what you eat. Avoid spicy foods, which can raise your body temperature, and opt for well-balanced and light meals, instead. Kids should eat foods such as fresh fruits, like watermelon, or ice popsicles, that are rich in water to stay hydrated, Kikano says.
  • Avoid coffee and alcohol. "They are diuretic-based and can lead to frequent bathroom visits that exacerbate dehydration," Kikano says.

Do you have quirky or tried-and-true ways to beat the heat? Tell us in the comments.