resources for surviving extreme heat

Heat domes and heat waves are all over the news — and as I write this, you’re probably sharing the experience.

For the last several years I’ve been creating and gathering resources about surviving (if not beating the heat) and wanted to put them all into one place for you.

The main thing to remember: Heat can be deadly. Don’t try to prove your burliness or sun worship by powering through the heat if you can at all avoid it.

Symptoms of heat illness range from rashes and muscle cramps to headaches, nausea, seizures, hallucinations and coma. If you can’t sweat or stop sweating, get somewhere cool ASAP.

Bear in minds, too, that pavement can be dozens of degrees hotter than vegetated soil. In 2023, people in Phoenix, Arizona got third degree burns from touching doorknobs or falling onto the pavement.

remember the basics

Keep these ideas at the top of your mind:

  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible.
  • If you must go outside in the heat, aim for the coolest parts of the day, generally early morning.
  • Minimize exertion, especially when outdoors or in hotter indoor spaces.
  • Stay hydrated. This means water, but also drinks with electrolytes to keep that water in.
  • Cool showers and baths can help keep your body temperature safe and comfortable.
  • Emphasize cooling, watery foods. (See this and this and this.) I’m not generally a smoothie fan, but they are a reasonable option when the mercury climbs.
  • Some medications can make you more sensitive to heat. Check in with your doctor if you’re not sure.
  • If you have access to air conditioning, use it. Again, this saves lives.

no a/c? try this

If you don’t have access to air conditioning, here are a few DIY things that can help:

  • Open windows late at night when temperatures fall and leave open overnight. If you go to bed before this happens, open them first thing in the morning if the outside air is cooler than indoor air.
  • Close windows and curtains during the heat of the day. We think of windows as a source of cold in the winter, but the converse is true in the summer. If you don’t have insulating blinds, consider hanging blankets, especially on west-facing windows in the afternoon.
  • Take advantage of any access to water.
  • If you don’t have to look presentable for Zoom or similar, try hippie a/c: Wetting down a shirt or head covering will cool your body as the water evaporates.
  • If you’re handy, try making a DIY swamp cooler. (Here and here.) These can lower temperatures by up to 20 degress — but only work when there’s low relative humidity.
  • Put your bed sheets in the freezer, and put them back on your mattress when it’s time to sleep. (You can also purchase cooling mattress pads.)

If none of those are workable — and for many they are not — look for local cooling centers.

knowledge is power.

As part of my work with the Naturopathic Climate Alliance, I’ve been compiling scientific studies and news reports addressing climate change and health. I hope you’ll dig in and find more useful info!

If you’re a provider or want to really dig into these issues, check out two talks I did for the Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians in April 2024. The first, with my colleague Dr. Janet Lewis of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance, is Feeling the Heat: Adapting Naturopathic Medicine in a Climate World. The second is Brain on Fire: Approaches to Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder, and covers heat issues in general. Both offer 1 general CEU for naturopathic doctors.

Another great course with continuing-education credit for practitioners, is the Climate Aware Therapist training offered through the Climate Psychiatry Alliance and Climate Psychology Alliance-North America.

Stay cool, ya’ll!

—Dr. Orna

P.S. Looking for personalized recommendations about making it through the heat? Book your appointment here.