Health risks of extreme heat — And how to assess your risk

REMOVEHigh temperatures aren’t just uncomfortable. They can quickly escalate to life-threatening: According to data from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers, more than 700 people nationwide die of heat-related causes annually from 2004 to 2018. Some research shows that the death toll will increase in the coming years as climate change making extreme heat more common.

Here’s what you need to know about the health risks of extreme heat and how to understand your own risk.

What happens when the body is too hot?

Humans evolved in tropical climates and can tolerate heat well by exhaling to the environment through their skin. But when the air becomes hotter than skin temperature (usually 97-99°F) or if sweat doesn’t evaporate, “we start to increase our heat and body temperature – the temperature of our deep tissues.” inside the body – begins W. Larry Kenney, a professor of physiology and kinetics at Penn State University who studies human temperature regulation, said. decrease and it keeps going up, in some people it can lead to heat-related illnesses.”

Some people are at higher risk than others

While everyone is susceptible to the health effects of heat, some people are at much higher risk than others. Infants and children are especially vulnerable, in part because they lose fluids faster than adults and require caregivers to help cool them down, according to the CDC. I have to go to school every day (EPA). Sure medicine can also make people more susceptible to heat. Some antidepressants and antipsychotics can affect sweating, while heart medications, such as ACE inhibitors, can cause dehydration and affect the kidneys. . Older people tend to have health conditions like diabetes that put them at higher risk, and their bodies respond to heat differently than younger people. They produce less sweat per gland, Kenney says, and that blood vessels change as people age in a way that makes it harder for blood to pump to the skin and lower body temperature.

It can cause heatstroke

Sun stroke occurs when the body reaches a core temperature of at least 104°F, which can lead to organ failure, brain damage, and even death. One of the reasons heatstroke is so dangerous is that it can cause cognitive impairment. Heatstroke patients often “don’t know where they are, how to get there, don’t know what day it is. They may eventually pass out, and if their body temperature continues to rise, they will eventually die,” Kenney said.

Those most susceptible to heatstroke include older adults and children, but even younger people can get heatstroke if they don’t take steps to cool down. It usually affects outdoor workers, military personnel and athlete “It is possible to ignore the warning signs and continue to promote intense physical activity,” says Kenney. People are often more susceptible to heatstroke if the temperature rises suddenly, such as a heat wave, and their body is not adapted to the heat. That’s why Football players sometimes develop heatstroke Kenney said when they started training in the summer; they are not used to training at high temperatures.

To address heatstroke, everyone must cool down as quickly as possible — preferably by Soak them up to the neck in ice cold waterKenney said. It is essential that they be checked by an emergency health care worker or doctor, who can ensure that their body temperature has cooled down and that their organs are not damaged.

Extreme heat can cause a mental health crisis

High temperatures can have a profound effect on mental health. Research has found that an increase in temperature is associated with higher rates of suicide; one year 2018 research published year Natural climate change found that for every 1°C increase in average monthly temperature in the US, there was a 0.7% increase in mortality from suicide. The authors hypothesized that high temperatures could cause negative changes in mental state.

Heat can also contribute to more emergency visits for mental health crises. In one research published year JAMA Psychiatric Department by 2022, researchers who evaluated 3.5 million emergency department visits found that higher warm-season temperatures increase the risk of going to the ER for any mental health condition , including substance use disorders, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia. Amruta Nori-Sarma, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and the study’s first author, says the findings may underestimate how temperature affects mental health. because the data only includes people with commercial health insurance or Medicare Advantage. The study also failed to capture mental health crises unrelated to hospitalization.

More research is needed to understand why extreme heat exacerbates mental health problems, but Nori-Sarma suspects that poor sleep is one of the factors. “We know that people struggle to sleep well when it’s very hot outside,” she said. “And we also know that people with disrupted sleep can experience a worsening of their existing mental health.”

High heat is bad for the heart

High temperatures can be more dangerous for people with a range of pre-existing health conditions — from Type 2 diabetes COPD — compared with the general population. Cardiovascular problems are especially dangerous: high temperatures can strain the heart and lead to heart attacks, which is dangerous for people with heart problems. “When our body temperature starts to rise, one of the things that happens is our heart rate goes up and our heart works harder to try to pump blood flow to the skin,” explains Kenney. to get rid of that heat. About a quarter of heat-related deaths are due to a combination of heat and cardiovascular disease, according to EPA.

Elevated body temperature also makes it harder for people to breathe, which can be dangerous for people with compromised respiratory systems from conditions like asthma and COPD. Air pollution and allergens like pollen—Two outdoor conditions often accompanied by high temperatures — often make this worse.

Dehydration can also lead to kidney problems. As the body heats up, the kidneys reduce the amount of urine excreted due to reduced blood flow from the internal organs to the skin and body fluids being secreted in the form of sweat. Overtime, chronic dehydration can lead to kidney failure.

As extreme temperatures become more common with climate change, new threats are emerging. Various extreme events are happening more and more at the same timeIt’s like a heatwave that happens to coincide with a drought, storm, or power outage, says Nori-Sarma. Extreme temperatures are also threatening places where high temperatures were previously overlooked—like the Pacific Northwest—And those areas may not be equipped with tools such as air conditioning.

To mitigate risk, regions should develop a “heat adaptation plan” that includes: resourcesas cooling centers, targeting vulnerable communities.

However, everyone in the community will need each other, too, she said. “It’s really important to make sure that neighbors are checking in on neighbors and friends are checking in on friends, because that can be one of the best ways to make sure everyone is okay,” she said. during these extreme hot days.

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