How to Beat the Heat During Record High Temperatures

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
June 15, 2024
Two women walking in the shade during summer

Summer 2023 was the hottest summer on record, according to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (more commonly known as NASA). And summer 2024 is on track to beat it.

You’re probably aware that squelching heat can cause health issues including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and hyperthermia. These heat-related issues can be serious, in fact, the latter two can be life threatening. But what you may not realize is that extreme heat is dangerous because it also exacerbates chronic health conditions, like heart disease, mental illness, diabetes, kidney disease, circulatory issues and obesity.

Historically, the months of May through September have higher heat-related emergency department visits than other times of the year. Males between 18 and 64 seem to be at highest risk, as are residents of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. However, over the last few years, the heat has become more extreme, reflected in an increasing number of emergency departments visits even in non-Southern states. Between 2018 and 2022, emergency department data found that 151 of every 100,000 emergency visits were heat-related illness, which rose to 180 of every 100,000 in 2023, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why is Heat So Problematic

Extremely high ambient heat causes your body to divert blood from your organs to beneath the skin to help cool the body and regulate internal temperature. As a result, organs work harder to maintain homeostasis. High temperatures also can dehydrate you. Dehydration can cause blood pressure to plummet and potentially skyrocket, triggering shock and damage organs. This combination ultimately raises your risk for:

  • Heart attack and heart failure. This is the result of the additional stress imposed on the heart.
  • Kidney function decline in response to heat-induced shutdown of the metabolic system. 
  • Breathing difficulties as hot, sunny weather usually raises the level of ozone – a pollutant known for irritating lungs, particularly if you have a lung condition. Hot and humid air also can worsen wheezing and breathlessness. 
  • Liver and brain damage, as a University of California study showed that heat stress can cause molecular damage in the liver and brain of elderly people.  
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like stomach aches and gastrointestinal distress. University of California researchers also found that heat stress can cause molecular damage in the gut of older people.  

Preventing Heat Related Health Issues

If you plan on spending time outdoors this summer, consider following these tips. 

  • Limit your time in the heat. Take breaks from the heat. Spend time in an air-conditioned home or public spaces such as a shopping mall or library. Keep in mind, fans can’t help you stay cool during extreme temperatures like air conditioning. Avoid being outdoors when the sun is the hottest – between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. You also can check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Heat & Health Tracker
  • Stay hydrated. In addition to drinking fluids, you can consume foods with high water contents. You’ll also want to limit your alcohol.   
  • Eat lighter meals. This means less work for your digestive system.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. This includes wearing sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes that cover the body and sunglasses. Protecting the skin helps maintain its ability to cool the body.  
  • Pay attention to ozone levels. High ozone levels can make breathing more difficult.
  • Take precautions if exercising outdoors. Working out raises your core body temperature. 
  • Talk to your doctor. You may be advised to limit your time in the sun if you have certain conditions or take specific medications.  

If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. MDVIP doctors have the time to work with you to develop a wellness plan and discuss heat related illness with you. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health » 

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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