Extreme Heat and Our Health: An Imperative for Climate Action

Across the country, temperatures are once again soaring due to climate change. A heat dome over parts of the western and southern United States is worsening an already dangerous weeks-long heat wave. Millions of Americans from South Florida to the interior of Washington are under heat alerts, and thousands of records are being broken by triple-digit temperatures. 2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record but could also be one of the coolest summers we experience moving forward due to our continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Extreme heat has a significant impact on multiple parts of the body and can lead to illnesses such as dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. On average, heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. A new report from the Center for American Progress estimates that heat-related or heat-adjacent illnesses could add approximately $1 billion in healthcare costs each summer. At greater risk are the elderly, people with chronic illness, children, and those without air conditioning. Due to discriminatory practices and policies, people of color and low-income families are more likely to live in areas with fewer trees and green spaces and in neighborhoods with aging or inadequate infrastructure.

Nighttime heat is also affecting sleep, with people living in warmer climates losing more sleep for each degree of temperature increase. According to a 2022 study in the Lancet Planetary Health, heat-related deaths could increase sixfold by the end of the century due to warmer nighttime temperatures.

This does not have to be our future. Taking action now to stop carbon pollution and transition to cleaner forms of energy will reward us immediately with cleaner air and in the long term by stabilizing our climate for a healthier and more liveable world.

If you are concerned about extreme heat, we encourage you to join us in our mission to create a healthier world for generations to come. Sign up here to learn how you can become a force for change. Then, get connected with advocates who are already working on the ground through our Climate and Health State Network.

Education Resources

  1. Know the signs, treatment, and prevention of heat-related illness. You can more about it here: Treatment and Prevention of Heat-Related Illness | NEJM.
  2. Talk to your patients in clinic or in the hospital about the dangers of a heat wave, and that we can expect more heat waves due to climate change driven by burning fossil fuels. A good guide for basic tips on staying safe can be provided in the After Visit Summary from the CDC which also has specific fact sheets for vulnerable populations: Keep Your Cool in Hot Weather | Environmental Health Features (cdc.gov).
  3. For patients experiencing housing insecurity or without access to cooling, make sure you know the resources for your county’s cooling shelter. You can find the information for your state here: Cooling Centers by State | NCHH.