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Electric Fans Might Do More Harm Than Good

To stay cool this summer, turn off the electric fans at higher temperatures, says new scientific review.

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In your A/C-free apartment or watching a game at the park, an electric fan feels like the only thing between you and sweating away to nothing. A new scientific review published in the Cochrane Library, though, found little evidence to show whether or not fans are helpful during a heat wave.

People without air conditioning often turn to electric fans to stay cool. At night, fans pull cooler air through a window from outside. They can also help lower body temperature by encouraging the evaporation of sweat.

Below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, electric fans work as you’d expect. When the temperature goes higher, the fan ends up blowing air across your skin that’s hotter than your body. This can make you sweat even more. If you don’t replenish your fluids and electrolytes fast enough, you can become dehydrated and increase your risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Because of the lack of scientific evidence on the use of electric fans during a heat wave, the Cochrane reviewers suggest following government guidelines. The CDC suggests that you don’t use electric fans when the temperatures reach the upper 90s.

A/C is the best relief from the heat, but if you are doing without this summer, you can try the following:

  • take a cold shower or bath to cool off
  • avoid turning on the stove or oven
  • go to a place with A/C, like a shopping mall, public library, or city-run heat-relief center
  • drink plenty of water
  • replenish your electrolytes with a healthy diet, fruit juice, or sports beverages.

Also, keep an eye on people who are more at risk of overheating, such as older adults, babies, people living alone and those on certain medications.

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