Is Heat Dangerous?

Grade Level: 
7
Answered by: 
Dr. Biology
A picture showing the damage to property after an F5 tornado... no homes are left, only rubble.

Tornadoes may seem like the scariest weather, as you don’t have much warning and your main option is to find somewhere safe to hide. But heat is far deadlier than tornadoes, and deaths from the heat will continue to increase in the coming years. 

When you think of dangerous weather, you might picture tornadoes or hurricanes. Those types of events can definitely hurt or kill people, and can destroy property. But the most dangerous type of weather is actually the heat. In an average year, in the US alone, heat waves kill over 700 people or more, which is almost 10 times the deaths estimated tornadoes per year. But for heat deaths, some years this number jumps to 1,600. In Europe, in 2022, over 62,000 people died from heat-related issues. Yes, heat is very dangerous. But there are things we can do to protect ourselves from heat. Before we get into those, let’s take a look at why heat can be so deadly.

Our bodies’ cooling system

Our bodies depend on keeping conditions pretty stable. We need to stay hydrated in a certain range, keep a certain level of salts and other ions in our bodies, and we need to stay around 37 degrees C, or 98.6 degrees F. When temperatures rise outside, our bodies work hard to stay cool. We sweat, losing water to manage the heat, as sweat helps cool us down. If we sweat too much though, we can get dehydrated, making our body fluids thicker. This makes our heart and other organs work harder, and can put a lot of strain on our bodies. Many heat-related deaths are actually due to heart attacks or issues with other organs.

A picture of a sweaty forearm

Sweat is one of our most important ways to cool down if we get too hot. As water reaches our skin, it can evaporate, which has a cooling effect on the skin. Image of sweaty forearm by Minghong.

If sweating fails to cool us, if we get too dehydrated and can no longer sweat, or if the environment is just too hot or humid, our bodies will overheat. At the start, this is called heat exhaustion, when the heat makes you dizzy, nauseated, or makes your muscles cramp. If your body doesn’t cool down fast, you can experience a heat stroke, when your body temperature goes above 104 degrees F. This can damage your brain, heart, kidneys, and other organs and can result in death.

How to stay cool in the heat

So, what can we do to stay safe when things heat up outside? Luckily, there are lots of tricks to help you. In some areas of the world, staying in air-conditioned buildings during the hottest parts of the day is helpful, but not all places have AC. Staying out of direct sun, drinking enough water, and getting water on your skin to cool you down are just a few of the ways to stay safe in the heat. Heat safety is becoming more and more important as extreme heat events become more common across the globe.

An illustration of a cartoon sun and water bottle for the heat safety game Beat the Heat

Click to play Beat the Heat 

A game to help you stay cool and safe

What if, to learn heat safety, you could play a game where you try to keep your cool when the temperatures get high? Well, you are in luck… See if you have what it takes to Beat the Heat, and stay safe in this heat safety game.


Additional images via Wikimedia Commons. Person at Death Valley badlands (menu thumbnail) by Photographersnature.

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Is Heat Dangerous?
  • Author(s): Dr. Biology
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: October 18, 2023
  • Date accessed: April 13, 2024
  • Link: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/heat-dangerous

APA Style

Dr. Biology. (2023, October 18). Is Heat Dangerous?. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved April 13, 2024 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/heat-dangerous

American Psychological Association. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/

Chicago Manual of Style

Dr. Biology. "Is Heat Dangerous?". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 18 October, 2023. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/heat-dangerous

MLA 2017 Style

Dr. Biology. "Is Heat Dangerous?". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 18 Oct 2023. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 13 Apr 2024. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/heat-dangerous

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/
An illustration of a sun and a water bottle with a tan two-toned background for the heat safety game Beat the Heat

What if, to learn heat safety, you could play a game where you try to keep your cool when the temperatures get high? Well, you are in luck… See if you have what it takes to Beat the Heat, and stay safe in this heat safety game.

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