Extreme heat is threatening large swaths of North America, as a heat wave spreads from the Southwest to reach the Midwest and potentially parts of New England this week. These rising temperatures increase the risk for heat-related illnesses including heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Read on for tips from experts on how to stay cool during the swelter — even without air conditioning.

Staying cool and hydrating often are the two most important things you can do to avoid feeling sick and discomfort when it’s extremely hot. If you don’t have an air conditioning unit, or if your A.C. has been on nonstop and you still feel hot, here are ways to cool your body and home:

  • Spritz your skin with a mist of cool or room-temperature water.

  • Block out the windows in your home with a blanket or a darker sheet during the day to keep the heat out.

  • If you don’t have A.C., keep windows open and run fans to circulate the air. Wirecutter, a New York Times company, has guidance on the best products to keep your home cool.

  • Wipe your forehead with a cool cloth.

  • Avoid strenuous exercise outdoors if possible.

  • Put ice cubes in your water bottle, especially if you’re outdoors.

  • If you do plan to exercise outside, or need to exert yourself outdoors for work, drink a slushie beforehand or douse your head in cold water. Cold showers can also help you cool down.

For adults, the C.D.C. says to watch out for symptoms of heat exhaustion, which include heavy sweating; cold, pale and clammy skin; a fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; muscle cramps; fatigue; dizziness; or headaches and fainting. If you are experiencing these symptoms, sip water, move to a cooler location if possible, loosen your clothes, or try to take a cool bath or place cool, wet cloths on your body. Seek medical attention immediately if you vomit or if your symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour.

The symptoms of heat stroke, according to the C.D.C., include a high body temperature (103°F or higher); hot, red, dry or damp skin; a fast and strong pulse; a headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion and passing out. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately, and try to move the person into the shade or a cooler area if available; use cool cloths or a cool bath to lower their body temperature. Do not give them anything to drink.

Making matters more confusing, denial can be also be a symptom of heat stroke. A person with heat-related illness may start stumbling or appear less coordinated than usual. Ask the person if they have a headache, nausea or dizziness. Talk to them about a variety of topics to see if they exhibit symptoms of confusion.

If you suspect a person is having a problem with the heat, err on the side of caution and insist they get into shade or somewhere cool. Have them drink water and spray their body with cold water or rub them down with ice or a cold cloth. If they don’t cool down quickly, seek medical advice.

Kids should be instructed that if their friends start acting funny, confused or mumbling, they should alert an adult.

There’s not a one-size-fits-all rule for the amount of water to drink, said Adriana Quinones-Camacho, M.D., a cardiologist at N.Y.U. Lagone Health. But everyone should expect to drink more than they normally would, and constant access to water is key. Drink even when you’re not thirsty. Since we lose electrolytes when we sweat, drinking Gatorade or other sports drinks with electrolytes can also help, she said. “Think of it similar to running a marathon, with how much people can sweat on a day like today,” she said.

To ascertain how much water you should drink, “you want to watch your output,” said Dr. James Mark, an emergency medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. If you’re urinating less frequently than normal, or if your urine is a concentrated, dark yellow or gold color, that’s a sign you should drink more fluids. If you are urinating frequently and your urine looks clear, you are likely sufficiently hydrated.

Avoid consuming alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, which can be dehydrating.

Eating fruits that have water in them can help you fend off the heat, Dr. Quinones-Camacho said. If you’re having salty foods, drink extra water to balance it out. Try to stay away from hot, body-warming foods, like soup.

Young children are especially vulnerable to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Parents and caregivers should monitor their activity during hot weather and plan activities that are less likely to cause them to overheat, like running through sprinklers or playing in a pool. Also make sure kids are wearing lightweight, light-colored clothing, using sunscreen and hydrating regularly.

If a child is playing outside of the water, try to keep them in the shade and consider bringing a spray bottle to spritz their skin (and your own).

When it is humid and at least 90 degrees, children should not play outside for more than 30 minutes at a time. Keep babies under 12 months out of the sun as much as possible.

Teens tend to be more active than adults in the summer, Dr. Mark said, and should plan activities like hanging out in a park before noon, when the heat will be less intense.

What are the signs of heat exhaustion in children?

If a child develops heat exhaustion, she may start to feel dizzy and nauseated, suffer muscle cramps or begin vomiting. Her skin may feel cold and clammy to touch.

If you observe these symptoms in a child, bring her to a cooler place; ask her to sit still or lie down; remove excess clothing; apply a cool, wet cloth or water to her skin and give her water to drink.

What are the signs of heat stroke in children?

“In heat stroke, the skin is hot and dry instead of cold and clammy, and the child gets sleepy and maybe confused,” said Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Children with heat stroke may also experience a high fever or seizures.

Heat stroke can also creep up on young kids who haven’t exerted themselves at all.

“They’re either dressed too warmly in a hot environment, they’re left in a hot vehicle or in a room that doesn’t have any circulation, they’re out at the beach wrapped up in the sun,” said Dr. Tony Woodward, the medical director of emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s. “All of those kinds of things can lead to their temperature going up very quickly.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ parenting website, HealthyChildren.org, half of children with heatstroke do not sweat.

If you suspect that a child has heat stroke, call 911 and try to cool them down until help arrives.

Extreme heat can be particularly dangerous for furry friends. Here are some simple precautions to protect dogs and other animals:

  • Walk your dog early in the morning or after sunset when the air and the streets are cooler. Avoid strenuously exercising your dog on very hot and humid days, and seek out shady trails or sidewalks whenever possible.

  • Always carry water and a collapsible bowl. Stop often to make sure your pet is sufficiently hydrated; panting, which is how they lower body temperature, causes water loss.

  • If your dog tries to slow down or stop entirely, let them rest and take frequent breaks.

  • If your dog shows any signs of overheating — excessive panting, lethargy, a deep red tongue — get them into cool water as soon as possible. A cool wet towel or piece of clothing can also help.

  • If signs of distress persist, go to a veterinarian immediately; organ failure can be rapid, irreversible and fatal.

  • Keep your pets groomed.

  • A cooling mat can also give your pet respite.

“The number-one issue is to stay well-hydrated,” said Wayne McCormick, M.D., a gerontologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Older people should drink lots of their beverage of choice: “It can be water, it can be lemonade, just whatever is wet,” Dr. McCormick said. If mobility is an issue and someone can’t easily get to a public cooling center or an air-conditioned space like a mall, Dr. McCormick recommends they head to their basement, or get “as low as possible” within their home.

If an older person shows signs that they are weak, tired, dizzy or nauseated, seek medical attention, Dr. Quinones-Camacho said.

Use a breathable cotton sheet, Dr. Mark said. You can set up a fan near your bed and spray your sheet with cold water before sleeping, or place your pillow cases or sheet in a plastic bag and store in a freezer during the day A cold bath or shower right before bed can also help.

Stay hydrated before heading to bed, and if you wake in the middle of the night, drink water, Dr. Quinones-Camacho said.

Additional reporting by Tara Parker-Pope, Christina Caron, Gretchen Reynolds and Caitlin Kelly.

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