Mar 02, 2021

Human health risks of climate-driven extreme heat

Heat | by Cal Inman, CEO | 4 Minutes

Over 650 people die each year in the United States because of extreme heat. Many more experience heat related illnesses.

High temperature risk, also known as extreme heat risk, is the most pervasive hazard being exacerbated by climate change. Extreme heat is when temperatures rise significantly above average temperatures in a specific location.

Increased humidity, which means a high amount of water vapor in the air, magnifies how hot it seems and amplifies the risk of high heat.

Climate change is dramatically increasing our risk to high temperature across the United States.

Find out if climate change will affect your high temperature risk.

Extreme Heat Health Risks

Extreme heat causes myriad health risks from heat stroke to sunburns.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke or sunstroke occurs when your body becomes overheated. It is the most serious condition related to too much heat exposure and can lead to death if untreated. Symptoms include:

  • Altered mental state
  • A high body temperature reaching 103 degrees or higher
  • Fast and strong pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a sign that your body is on its way to a potentially dangerous heat stroke. Symptoms include:

  • Sweating profusely
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • General weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness and nausea

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are muscle spasms that occur when you exercise in hot weather. Symptoms include:

  • Muscle cramps in the muscles being exercised
  • Sweating profusely
  • Extreme thirst and other signs of dehydration

Who is at risk of Extremely Hot Temperatures?

Extreme heat presents a risk to everyone. However, the CDC notes that these underlying health conditions can make you more susceptible to illness caused by high heat:

  • Obesity
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Prescription drug use
  • Heart disease
  • Mental illness
  • Poor circulation
  • Sunburn

Although anyone can suffer from heat related illness or death, children and elderly folks are particularly susceptible.

High Temperature Financial Risks

Extreme Heat can cause strain on a home, monthly expenses and local infrastructure. Areas that are not equipped to handle increasing hot temperatures are particularly at risk.

The impacts to your home and your pocketbook include:

  • Increasing Home Expenses — High temperatures make it much more expensive to cool your house in the summer.
  • Strain on your home — High temperatures put a strain on your cooling systems that might not have been designed for such high heat or frequent usage. This can cause added maintenance costs to your home.
  • Home Improvements — New improvements could be needed to cope with increasing temperatures such as larger capacity air conditioning units, additional roof and wall insulation, reflective roofs, etc.
  • Strain on local infrastructure — As everyone turns on their cooling units during peak demand (daytime when everyone is using power to cool) the local electric grid can become strained. This can ultimately cause outages, rolling blackouts and increase utility bills.
  • Increased healthcare costs — serious health risks such as heat stroke are directly related to increased temperatures and could cause your healthcare premiums to increase.

How Climate Change is Increasing Extreme Heat

Climate change is causing more extreme temperatures — both high temperatures and low temperatures — and increased frequency of these extreme days all across the world. This means that we will experience more extreme heat days, more extreme cold days, and less moderate days. Everything will become more extreme, and not in ESPN’s fun use of the word.

Over the past century we have seen a significant increase in both the number of extreme heat days and an increase in temperatures across the entire US.

What Can You Do About Extreme Heat?

First of all, understand the impact extreme heat due to climate change will have where you live.

Find out how climate change might be increasing your risk of high temperatures.

Beyond that, no one person can solve a global problem like climate change, but you can do your part by reducing your carbon footprint by making changes inside and outside your home. Read more: How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint - A Year of Living Better Guides - The New York Times.