BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Extreme Temperature Conditions: Heat exposure



Extreme temperatures are temperatures that fluctuate plus or minus 10 degrees or more above or below the average high and low temperatures for a particular region at a particular season, and last for several weeks. In terms of extreme heat exposure, our bodies have a remarkable ability to adapt to variable hot weather conditions. This is because the body temperature increases when net heat gain from the environment and the body itself is more than heat loss. Practically, the body needs to maintain its temperature which is about 37.4° around relatively higher temperatures without more than 3°rise in its core temperature. This is necessary for survival.

Extreme hot weather conditions are seen predominantly in African countries but also exist in some European countries, some parts of the US, UK and others during a heat wave. A heat wave is 5 or more consecutive days of prolonged heat in which the daily maximum temperature is higher than the average maximum temperature by 5 °C or more as defined by the World Meteorological Association, however, this definition may differ by country. High temperatures have become an increasing public health concern not only because they cause a number of preventable deaths particularly in children, elderly and pregnant women but they are also worsening due to global warming. People that have experienced these hot conditions can attest to their negative health impacts such as an overall decrease in work performance or a gradual decline in health and wellness. These are due to the indirect psychological stress that heat can put on the human brain. Other direct health problems that can result with extreme heat and increasing temperature include;

  • Heat rash: rashes that develop due to heat
  • Heat cramps: severe painful muscle cramps mostly in intense exertion due to strenuous exercise
  • Heat syncope: fainting spells that occur due to fluid and electrolyte loss during profuse sweating
  • Heat exhaustion: loss in the body’s ability to regulate heat leading to marked derangement in most body systems.
  • Heat stroke: the most extreme case known as hyperthermia where there is severe dehydration and impaired neurological functions (loss of consciousness, seizures and possibly death)

In addition to its effects on the body, extreme heat can put pressure on electricity and power distribution due to increased air conditioner use. Heat waves can also cause other problems like damage to roads and railway. Finally, it has largely contributed to the increased frequency and severity of wildfires such as the amazon fires. The outlook would continue to worsen if we fold our arms because global warming would keep increasing the temperature of our environment. Therefore, there has to be more serious commitment to our global action on climate change if we are serious at all about these public health problems. For individual problems, some of these tips may help:

  • Stay hydrated with water not alcohol or caffeine as most health effects are due to fluid and electrolyte loss
  • Reduce exposure by removing clothing to create room for heat loss
  • Stop or reduce exercise or physical activity because they work the muscles and increase core body temperature
  • Take cold baths and rest on a light bed linen not cushion
  • Wear loose fitting clothes, wide hats and sunglasses to protect oneself when going out
  • Reduce heat load in the house by turning off as much electrical appliances as possible
  • Hang wet towels in airy places and close the windows directly facing the sun during the day
  • Spend the most time in the coolest parts of the house
  • Avoid going out in very hot periods and use shades when out
  • Check on family especially children and elderly
  • Do not stay or leave people in confined areas like cars, particularly children
  • Contact a health professional if you experience any problems

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