Expert: Heat dome health hazards and what this means for future summers

Extreme heat is a health crisis that will only worsen due to the threat of climate change
ome states have seen the health impacts of extreme heat as cities report heat-related hospital visits and deaths. Pixabay
ome states have seen the health impacts of extreme heat as cities report heat-related hospital visits and deaths. Pixabay

More than 100 million U.S. residents in 27 states received extreme heat alerts this week due to the heat dome, a large area of high pressure that traps and stagnates hot air, causing a heat wave that can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Some states have seen the health impacts of extreme heat as cities report heat-related hospital visits and deaths. 

Mostafijur Rahman, an assistant professor of environmental epidemiology at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said extreme heat is a health crisis that will only worsen due to the threat of climate change. Rahman said the elderly, people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, children, outdoor workers, and homeless individuals are most at risk from the effects of heat.

“Exposure to extreme heat can lead to serious health consequences by impairing our body’s thermoregulation system, causing heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration,” Rahman said. “Additionally, extreme heat puts extra strain on the heart, which is particularly dangerous for individuals with cardiovascular problems or high blood pressure.”

Rahman said sweltering temperatures can also worsen respiratory issues for those with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and he cautioned against prolonged heat exposure for those with diabetes, kidney disease and mental illness.

“It’s crucial to stay hydrated, stay indoors with air conditioning, avoid strenuous activities during peak heat hours, and seek cool environments to mitigate the risks,” Rahman said. “Those who do not have access to air conditioning at home can go to nearby public libraries and shopping malls. Governments and communities should consider establishing air-conditioned cooling centers so people can cool themselves during extreme heat events.”

Rahman, whose research investigates climate change's health impacts, said heat domes such as this may become more frequent.

“Climate change is the number one public health threat," Rahman said. "Ambient temperature is the most direct measure of how climate change affects our everyday lives, and all climate models robustly predict that extreme heat events will become more frequent, more intense, and longer-lasting as climate change progresses. In fact, last summer was the hottest in the history of the Earth, and this May was the hottest May since records began. This indicates that the situation will likely worsen in the coming years.” Newswise

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