There are “about 35 ways to die from heat”

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / unsplash – Jonas Weckschmied

When is heat really dangerous for humans? And above all, for whom? In an interview, environmental meteorologist Andreas Matzarakis explains the dangers and gives tips on what to do when it’s hot.

Last week parts of Germany already experienced temperatures above 30 degrees. For the coming years, climate researchers predict average values ​​of up to 40 degrees and maximum temperatures of up to 45 degrees. In an interview with Der Spiegel, the head of the Center for Medical Meteorological Research of the German Weather Service (DWD) and environmental meteorologist, Andreas Matzarakis, made it clear what consequences the heat can have for us humans.

Danger of heat is not only related to temperature

According to Matzarakis, there are “about 35 ways of dying from heat”. These include dehydration, circulatory failure or heat stroke, where the body can no longer regulate heat. As the environmental meteorologist explains, the heat initially affects concentration, which is disturbed. In the worst case, heat can lead to multi-organ failure.

It is not possible to say at what degree of heat becomes dangerous for humans, since not only the measured air temperature has an influence on the human organism, explains Matzarakis. Among other things, the humidity is crucial. According to the researcher, people suffer from this much more than from dry heat. “A dry 41 degrees Celsius can feel pleasant, while a humid 30 degrees can hardly be endured,” emphasizes Matzarakis. In addition, the pollutant content of the air, such as that of ozone, usually increases with an increase in temperature, according to the researcher.

Perceived temperature is crucial

The heat warnings of the German Weather Service are not based on the absolute, measured temperature, but on the felt temperature – in addition to the air temperature, wind speed, solar radiation and humidity are also included in the calculation. According to Matzarakis, the perceived temperature is decisive for how much the heat affects people and how dangerous it is.

The DWD works with the heat warning system with two stages. The first stage is called out as soon as the perceived temperature reaches 32 degrees. At a temperature of 38 degrees, the second warning level is called. According to Matzarakis, heat-related mortality increases from 32 degrees. According to him, night-time temperature, especially indoors, has a particularly strong impact on mortality. He therefore recommends a maximum of 22 degrees in the bedroom – 18 to 19 degrees would be better.

Adjust your own behavior in the heat

In order to protect people from the heat, Matzarakis would like warnings to reach the population better than before – for example through display boards at bus stops.

But according to the researcher, each individual can also do “a lot” to protect themselves from the heat. This includes people drinking enough and continuously throughout the day. In addition, according to him, the dose of medication and diet must be adjusted to the heat. People should also adapt their ventilation behavior: i.e. only open the window when it is colder outside than inside and leave the shutters down during the day.

Matzarakis believes that people should realize: “Heat is not only a danger for old people. After three days at the latest, it affects us all.”

Sources used: Spiegel, DWD heat warning system


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