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What to Do When Your Air Conditioning Goes Out

Stay cool, drink water, and know when it's too hot to stay in the house.

Q&A with Dr. Neil Wagle

Dr. Wagle is our Associate Chief Medical Officer here at Devoted Health. He’s also a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.

Summer storms in Florida means power outages — and that could mean no AC for a few hours (or more). We talked to Dr. Wagle to get some tips on how to stay cool — and healthy — until your power’s back and your AC’s humming.

People in Florida really worry about losing their air conditioning.
Of course. And while you don’t need to panic, you do need to take really hot days seriously. Extreme heat can be dangerous, especially when you’re older.

Why is that?
As you get older, your body just isn’t as good at dealing with temperature changes — and some common health problems and medications can make the problem worse. It’s easier to get overheated without even knowing it.

So you’re sitting at home and the AC shuts off. What should you do?
You want to trap that cool air in your home. So close the shades to block the sun and keep the windows shut. Change into some light, loose clothing — maybe cotton or linen — and try to stay in the coolest room of your home. Then, take it easy — it’s not the day to clean out the garage or work around the house.

Should you be drinking a lot?
In general, yes. Most people need to drink much more than normal and shouldn’t wait until they’re thirsty to start.

However, if you have any health conditions, like high blood pressure or heart problems, you need to check in with your doctor first. Ask exactly how much you should drink on very hot days. When you’re on certain medications, drinking too much isn’t safe.

Is water the best choice?
Water is good, but I recommend a mix: half water and half Gatorade. (If you have diabetes, “G2” is a better choice because it doesn’t have sugar.) Sports drinks like Gatorade have the electrolytes you need. Try to avoid caffeine or alcohol, since they’ll actually make you more dehydrated.

So don’t try to cool down with Diet Coke or beer?
Right — they’ll just make you go the bathroom, and you’ll end up losing more fluid than you drink.

How do you know if your home is too hot and you need to leave?
If you’re just sitting there in a chair, not moving much, and you’re still sweating or feeling thirsty, that’s a sign it’s probably too hot to stay.

Where should people go?
Anywhere that’s air-conditioned, like the movies, the mall, the library, or a senior center. You can also get in touch with your county health department — they can tell you about cool places nearby.

Any other tips?
I recommend that people think ahead. Summer power outages on hot days are going to happen, so have a plan for where you’ll go. You’ll feel a lot less stressed the next time the power goes out.

Tip: Need help paying for air conditioning?
If you have a low income, you may be able to get help paying for the costs of air conditioning. Learn about the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

The Takeaway

On hot days with no AC:

  1. Wear light clothing and take it easy
  2. Drink! But no alcohol or caffeine
  3. Get out of the house if it’s too hot — head someplace that does have AC
  4. Ask your local health department about safe places to cool down
  5. If you have any health conditions or take daily medicines, check with your doctor about what to do — and how much you should drink — on hot days.

Disclaimer:

The information in this newsletter is only for reference. It's not supposed to be a guide or a replacement for proper medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment you'd get from a doctor, nurse, or other health professional. So don't try to treat any health conditions based on what you read in this newsletter — that's not how we intended it. See your own doctor instead!