Share on PinterestHeat waves have hit much of the U.S. this summer. Scientists are learning how high temps affect the body. Aleksandar Nakic/Getty Images
- Research indicates that the upper temperature limit for humans is probably between 40°C, or 104°F, and 50°C, or 122°F.
- Extreme heat makes your body work harder to function and could lead to heat-related illness and even death.
- Sensitive groups, such as older people and those with chronic illness, are at greater risk.
- It is important to take steps to keep cool when temperatures are high.
July 4 was the hottest day ever recorded worldwide. In recent weeks, parts of the United States like Death Valley, CA, and several cities in Texas, had temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
As humans face increasing temperatures due to climate change, scientists have explored what temperature limit humans can safely tolerate.
Now, researchers from the University of Roehampton in London say they may have honed in on a temperature range where the body starts to function less optimally.
According to Prof. Lewis Halsey and his research team, the upper critical temperature (UCT) is likely to be between 40°C and 50°C (104°F and 122°F).
According to the researchers, this is significant because understanding the temperatures that cause our metabolic rate to increase and how this temperature varies for different individuals can have large implications for workers, athletes, travelers, and medical practitioners.
Halsey presented the findings at the SEB Centenary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, in early July.
Dr. Naheed Ali, a physician-writer at Healthcare Propulsion in Miami Beach, FL, who also did not take part in the study, said extreme heat can affect different people differently due to various reasons, including age, their overall health, and their individual susceptibility.
“Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, children, pregnant women, individuals with chronic illnesses, and those with limited access to cooling resources, are often more susceptible to the negative impacts of high temperatures,” he stated.
Factors like socioeconomic status and geographic location can also play a role, Ali said.
Exposure to extreme heat can cause illnesses like heat cramps, exhaustion, and heat stroke, ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening, he added.
Additionally, they can make existing heart and respiratory conditions worse.
“In extreme cases, extreme heat events can result in excess mortality, particularly during heatwaves,” he said.
According to Ali, common symptoms that people might experience due to extreme heat may include:
Ali noted that heatstroke is the most severe form of heat-related illness. This condition can lead to a high body temperature greater than 103°F, an altered mental state, hot and dry skin, and a lack of sweating. It can also potentially cause death.
Atkinson and Ali said that some ways to protect yourself from extreme heat include the following:
Ali further noted that it’s important to keep an eye on those who are particularly vulnerable, such as older people and those with chronic illnesses, to make sure they are able to keep cool.
“If necessary, [seek] medical attention for severe symptoms or [seek] shelter in designated cooling centers during heatwaves,” he concluded.