Nine of the 10 hottest years in Australia have occurred since 2005, and last year was our third warmest. This rise in temperature is of concern to healthcare professionals because the heat poses a health hazard. Especially for young and old Australians high temperatures can lead to heat stroke and even death.
Moreover, power outages are not uncommon during the heat because the use of air conditioners and fans puts a strain on the electrical grid. So if blackouts occur at high temperatures, what can you do to protect yourself and stay cool?
A recent Australian study looked at two heat scenarios – one with hot, humid heat (40 degrees Celsius, 50 percent humidity) and the other with very hot, dry heat (47 degrees Celsius, 10 percent humidity). They forced volunteers to sit in rooms with climate and test three different coolness strategies. The basic control strategy was to drink a glass of water every half hour.
The second group also had to dip his foot in the water, and the third – a sponge to apply water to the whole body. The researchers measured the body temperature of the volunteers, their heart rate, how much they sweated and how uncomfortable they felt.
Research has shown that it is best to keep cool with a sponge. It helped get rid of heat through evaporation, slightly reduced heart rate, and reduced sweating. Soaking your feet was also effective, but not as hard as a sponge.
The volunteers in this study were healthy young people, so the authors say more research is needed in older populations to confirm that strategies will work for them. But research shows that easy access to tap water can significantly affect your ability to control heat waves in the event of a power outage.
As the effects of climate change continue to be felt and heat waves become more frequent, familiarity with coolness strategies will become even more important.
For reference: Morris, et al (2019). Preliminary study of the effects of dousing and immersion of the feet on cardiovascular and thermal responses to extreme heat. JAMA doi: 10.1001 / jama.2019.13051