Scientists Say: Hyperthermia

This word is too hot for your body to handle
Feb 13, 2017 — 6:50 am EST
girl drinking water

Drinking fluids in the summer heat is important for avoiding hyperthermia. 

YuriyS/iStockphoto

Hyperthermia (noun, “HY-per-THERM-ee-ah”)

This is a condition in which a person’s body temperature gets dangerously high.

Usually, body temperature should remain around 37° Celsius (98.6° Fahrenheit). This allows our cells to perform all their normal activities. To maintain this temperature, the human body constantly produces its own heat, and then loses some of it to the surrounding air. When that air gets hot, a person may start to sweat. The sweat evaporates and cools the body a little.

But if the body produces more heat than it can get rid of, body temperature can rise. If it gets above 38°C (100° F) or so, a person will start developing symptoms of hyperthermia. This can happen if a person performs a lot of physical activity in a hot setting, such as running a marathon in the summer. It can also happen to very old and very young people who live without air conditioning in very hot places.

At first, someone who is hyperthermic may sweat a lot. Their heart may start to beat quickly. But as their temperature rises still more, their skin may turn hot and dry. They may feel dizzy or nauseated. If their body temperature rises above 40°C (104° F), they can develop a life-threatening condition called heat stroke.

If someone starts showing signs of hyperthermia, it’s time to chill out. They should be taken to a cooler place and chilled with cold drinks and cool showers or baths.

In a sentence

As pollution increases and the Earth warms, heat-related illnesses — including hyperthermia — are increasing.

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Power Words

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cell     The smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the naked eye, it consists of watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells, depending on their size. Some organisms, such as yeasts, molds, bacteria and some algae, are composed of only one cell.

evaporate     To turn from liquid into vapor.

symptom     A physical or mental indicator generally regarded to be characteristic of a disease. Sometimes a single symptom — especially a general one, such as fever or pain — can be a sign of any of many different types of injury or disease.