What Happens To Your Body In an Apocalyptic Heat Wave (Think: Middle East, Right Now)


It feels like 164 degrees in an Iraqi city right now. “Those are cooking temperatures,” says an expert, and that’s exactly what can happen to your body when the temperature’s too high for humans. (Photo: Getty Images)

Given the heat wave that most of America has experienced over the past two weeks, you may think it’s hot outside. But unless you live in the Middle East, you have no idea how uncomfortable — and dangerous — it can get.

Iran and Iraq are currently at the mercy of an apocalyptic “heat dome.” It’s bad enough that the temperature is wavering around 120 scorching degrees. But the heat index — or what air temperature feels like to the human body when you add in humidity — spiked to an apocalyptic 164 degrees in the Iranian city of Bandar Mahshahr. This otherworldly weather prompted a mandated four-day “heat holiday,” and experts say they expect the extreme temperatures to continue for another few days.

This isn’t the first crushing heat wave to strike the region. Pakistan suffered a brutal heat wave in June, which killed 600 people in just three days. Temperatures there soared to 113 degrees and created power outages in the city, so that residents couldn’t use fans or air conditioning.

India had its own heat wave in late spring, which lasted for five weeks and left 230 people dead.

While these temperatures are scorching, they’re not the hottest ever recorded: According to Guinness World Records, the hottest temperature on record is 134 degrees Fahrenheit, which was measured in 1913 in Death Valley, Calif.

Officials are now urging people to stay inside and drink plenty of water, but regular water and electricity cut-offs in Iraq can make it difficult for many Iraqis and others across the region to find relief.

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That’s especially dangerous since “we’re just not designed to live in these temperatures,” Mark Morocco, MD, a professor of emergency medicine at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health. “Those are cooking temperatures,” he says.

And that’s essentially what can happen to your body in an apocalyptic heat wave like this.

Morocco explains it this way: A heat wave causes you to either get too dry or too hot, both of which are bad for you. When you get hot, you sweat, which helps bring down your body temperature.

But if you sweat too much and aren’t replacing the fluids you’re losing, you can suffer from heat exhaustion. At that point, you’ll be sweaty and dizzy, and may even feel nauseous. “That’s a warning that you’re in the danger zone,” says Morocco.

But if you don’t get help or replace those fluids, you lose the ability to sweat. Then, your temperature goes up too high, you develop heat stroke, and “things begin to spiral out of control,” says Morocco. “You begin to sort of cook.”

If no air conditioning is available but there is a fan handy, that can be an issue too, says Morocco: “It can act like a convection oven.”

Confusion is one of the first signs of heat stroke, he says because your body’s higher-than-normal temperature starts to affect your brain. When that happens, it’s important to call 911.

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While high temperatures aren’t rare for people who live in the Middle East, Russ Kino, MD, medical director of the Weingart Foundation Emergency Department at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Health there’s only so much the body can take — no matter the climate you’re used to.

“People who live in very hot climates obviously can handle it better than someone who isn’t used to that,” he says. “But extreme temperatures…that’s beyond the body’s ability to cope.” Once your core body temperature goes above 105 for a length of time, your body will start to react negatively.

And, unfortunately, things can go downhill quickly. “When your body temperature goes up too much for hours on end, you go into this negative cycle where everything will malfunction — kidney failure, heart failure, and more,” Kino says. “It’s extremely dangerous and people can be killed quite easily and quickly.”

However, Sanford Vieder, DO, medical director of Lakes Urgent Care in West Bloomfield, Michigan, tells Yahoo Health there are some things people can do to keep their body temperatures within a safe range during an apocalyptic heat wave.

The most important step is limiting exposure to the heat. When air conditioning isn’t an option, he says getting out of direct sunlight is “infinitely better” than being in direct sunlight.

Vieder also recommends avoiding dark colors (which absorb heat and can make a person hotter), regularly drinking fluids, keeping your body wet, and trying to avoid working outside as much as possible.

But Morocco acknowledges this extreme weather is new territory. “I don’t remember seeing reported temperatures this high very often,” he says. “It’s really remarkable…and dangerous.”

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