Public Health

Am I More At-Risk for Heat Exhaustion Due to Climate Change?

Erica Kahn
Erica Kahn23 Aug 2022
Reviewed and Fact Checked ✔️

Population exposure to heat is increasing and will continue to due to climate change. As a result, the increased frequency, duration, and magnitude of extreme temperature events like heatwaves increase the risk of heat-related illnesses, including heat exhaustion. The effects of heat exhaustion are preventable largely through public health actions, yet there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of heat exhaustion.  

Impact of Climate Change on Heat-Related Illnesses

Climate change is causing more heat waves in the United States. In the 1960s, the U.S. experienced about 2 heatwaves per year and by the 2010s, experienced about 6 per year. Heat-related illnesses and heat exhaustion are expected to increase due to the climate crisis.

Heat-related deaths in the U.S. are difficult to measure as heat is sometimes considered an underlying and contributing cause rather than the predominant cause. According to the EPA, there are approximately 1,300 deaths per year in the U.S. due to extreme heat. Heat-related illness is also the leading cause of death and disability among U.S. high school athletes.  

Increased Prevalence of ‘Heat Days’

Power shortages often accompany heat waves, disrupting health facilities, transport, and water systems. These “heat days” also result in work places and schools closing due to the heat and the additional problems it brings. A recent Washington Post article details how schools across America are changing their schedules or closing due to the increase in heat waves.

Climate change has caused regions from the Northeast to the Pacific Northwest of the United States to experience extreme heat that was once rare in August and September. Urban areas are especially at risk as they often consist of old buildings that do not have air conditioning, have a lack of green space, and lack shade.     

Heat Exhaustion and Underlying Diseases

Increased exposure to heat not only increases your risk of heat-related illnesses, but it also worsens existing conditions. In particular, heat can be attributed to indirectly exacerbating respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and renal disease. 

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Erica Kahn

Erica graduated from Emory University in Atlanta with a BS in environmental science and a minor in English and is on track to graduate with her Master's in Public Health. She is passionate about health equity, women's health, and how the environment impacts public health.

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