Scientists Say: Hyperthermia

This word is too hot for your body to handle

girl drinking water

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


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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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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