Here are the health risks from extreme heat

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Heat affects health in several ways.

Heat exhaustion, which can include dizziness, headaches, shakiness, and thirst, can affect anyone and is usually not serious if the person stays cool for 30 minutes.

A more serious version is heat stroke, when body temperature rises above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a medical emergency and can lead to long-term organ damage and death. Symptoms include rapid breathing, confusion or seizures, and nausea.

Who is at risk

Some people are more vulnerable, including young children and the elderly, and people who need to stay active or are more at risk, such as the homeless.

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existing conditions, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseasesas well as diabetes can also increase risk and be exacerbated by heat.

“When you see a day as hot as today, there is likely to be a spike in deaths from all of these disease groups,” said Shakur Hajat, an environmental epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Globally, just under half a million deaths a year are due to extreme heat, according to a study published last year in The Lancet, although data are missing for many low-income countries. Researchers say many more are dying from the cold, but this is predicted to change.

With temperatures rising around the world, it is important to understand the health risks associated with extreme heat.  Pictured, a woman works at the Madrid Community Emergency Medical Service call center during the second heat wave of the year in Madrid, Spain on July 14, 2022.

With temperatures rising around the world, it is important to understand the health risks associated with extreme heat. Pictured, a woman works at the Madrid Community Emergency Medical Service call center during the second heat wave of the year in Madrid, Spain on July 14, 2022.
(REUTERS/Isabel Infantes/File Photo)

Less obvious risks

Air pollution The World Meteorological Association warned last week that it also increases during heatwaves, with adverse health effects.

A number of studies have shown that heat can also lead to low birth weight and preterm birth in pregnant women and babies.

There are also less obvious risks. Lawrence Wainwright, lecturer in the environment at Oxford University, said suicide rates and mental health problems often rise during heatwaves.

The scientists said there is no evidence yet of any effect on COVID-19 or long-term COVID patients.

Time matters

Experts say more deaths occur in early summer, when people’s bodies haven’t had time to acclimate.

Location matters too; people are at higher risk in places where they are not used to such heat, including in parts of Europe.

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There are limits, however, and people around the world are at risk in extremely hot weather caused by climate change, especially people who are forced to continue working, such as manual jobs.

“In every place I have seen in the world for which we have data, there is an increased risk of mortality when people are exposed to high temperatures,” said Eunice Law, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol in western England.

What can you do

A number of European public health agencies have issued recommendations for staying cool, including avoiding exercise whenever possible and avoiding dehydration.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

They also advise testing the vulnerable. During the European heatwave in 2003, when more than 20,000 people are thought to have died, many of them were elderly and isolated.