What happens to your body and other unfortunate objects at different temperatures
We know it’s still (or frequently) hot out there in the Middle East’s summer sun—but the associated health risks depend on a lot more than just the mercury rising. Humidity is a major factor: In a relatively dry sauna, the human body can withstand temperatures of around 100 degrees celsius (although that’s not advised). In extreme humidity, an outdoor stroll when its approaching 60 degrees could be your last.
An individual’s health is also a major factor. Given the wide range of temperatures humans can handle, the body is remarkably good at regulating its normal internal temperature of around 37 degrees. But that ability depends on multiple factors—including age, illness, the capacity to sweat, and medications—which can limit the efficiency of the internal cooling system.
That means someone in good health could walk around Dubai or Riyadh when it’s 45 degrees without ending up in hospital, but someone with obesity or a heart complaint could get sick when it’s much cooler.
“It varies from one person to another, age becomes a factor. Men cope with the temperature more than women because women are less likely to sweat,” said Dr. Amer Helbaoui, internal medicine consultant at Mediclinic Dubai Mall.
There are, of course, limits to the heat extremes that even the healthiest person can withstand. “Our bodies are amazing, they can react to a hot environment,” said Helbaoui. “But in an overwhelmingly hot environment, it can overwhelm the body’s coping mechanism.”
That coping mechanism includes pumping more blood to the skin and increasing sweat production as a defense mechanism. But in a very hot environment, when the rate of heat gain is more than that of heat loss, the body temperature begins to rise. Even one degree above the normal body temperature can land you in the emergency room. Relatively minor symptoms can include heat cramps, heat edema (swelling in the ankles), and heat rash—tiny red spots and prickling sensations on the skin, due to sweat glands getting blocked and causing inflammation.
Yet spending too much time in the sun—the highest temperature recorded in the UAE, in July 2002, was a terrifying 52.1 degrees celsius—can have much more severe health consequences, including death. These include heat exhaustion—which could lead to blurry vision, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea—and heat syncope, where the blood flow to the brain becomes compromised, causing blackouts.
Heat stroke is when things get really serious, though. “The body temperature can rise to 41 degrees. Sometimes there is a loss of consciousness,” said Helbaoui. “In extreme situations, they might have seizures. This is a real emergency.”