Extreme heat can be damaging to your long-term health
Heat can be deadly, killing more people every year than other weather hazards. But as hotter days become our new normal — or, as some climate scientists say, our “new abnormal” — the ill effects of higher temperatures on our bodies can persist a lot longer than you might think.
The World Health Organization says that climate change is “the single biggest health threat facing humanity.” And while that may sound like hyperbole, experts say it’s really not so far-fetched.
“There are really direct relationships between climate and health, and what we’re seeing in many cases we could call ‘climate-exacerbated disease,’” Dr. Christopher Tedeschi, director of emergency preparedness for emergency medicine at Columbia University, told Yahoo News.
Walking outside on an oppressively hot day, it’s easy to see how excessive heat can do immediate harm. Heatstroke and heat exhaustion may be among the first conditions that come to mind.
Heatstroke, which occurs when the body loses its ability to cool down and control its temperature, can cause permanent disability and even death, with body temperatures possibly rising to 106°F or higher in under 15 minutes. Heat exhaustion, which includes symptoms like dizziness, nausea and headache, can lead to heatstroke unless treated immediately.
But extreme heat can also be damaging in less obvious ways, and may have a major impact on chronic diseases.
“Heat puts stress on your body, and when your body is stressed it has a hard time dealing with other things like cardiac conditions or respiratory conditions,” Tedeschi said. “When you look at, for instance, emergency department visits during times of extreme heat, more people present with heart attacks, more people present with strokes, and that is frankly just a reflection of the stress on the body.”
Higher temperatures also often lead to poorer air quality, with extreme heat and stagnant air increasing the amount of ozone and particle pollution. And after you've endured a scorcher, all that heat can harm your sleep too, with even mild heat exposure keeping body temperatures up, affecting sleep stages and hindering the ability to fall and stay asleep.