As we enter the dog days of summer, I dream of taking a cold dip in the Atlantic Ocean or swimming in a local pool to cool off. But for many Americans who have to work outside or do not have access to pools or air conditioning, rising temperatures can be deadly.

Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Extreme heat contributed to the deaths of 3644 people between 2019 and 2021, with Nevada reporting the highest rates of heat-related deaths in the nation. Exposure to extreme heat can cause muscle cramping, heat exhaustion (fatigue, headache, nausea, and vomiting), and heat stroke.

For young children, older adults, and people with chronic medical conditions, extreme temperatures can be particularly dangerous. Warmer temperatures also mean higher ozone levels, which can affect people with respiratory issues such as asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema.

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The earth is getting hotter. July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). My daughter lives in Portland, Oregon. Last June, Portland experienced a “heat dome” that shattered records with temperatures reaching a high of 115 °F. The number of people who died during the heat-related events in Oregon reached 73. We are talking about the Pacific Northwest, where average summer temperatures typically top 80 °F with lows in the high 50s.

For vulnerable people living in urban heat zones, getting relief from the heat may be challenging. Heat distribution is not always equitable. This can be especially true in neighborhoods with lower-income nonwhite residents, which experience significantly more extreme land surface temperatures than their wealthier, whiter counterparts, according to researchers.

To help people prepare for the next heat wave, the CDC has developed a Heat & Health Tracker that provides local heat and health information to help communities prepare for extreme heat events. In Los Angeles, California, the city named its first chief heat officer whose job is to coordinate a better response to extreme heat and develop sustainable cooling strategies, according to Kaiser Health News.

Here is wishing everyone a wonderful summer, stay cool!

Nikki Kean

Director, The Clinical Advisor