Germany is threatened with very high temperatures at the weekend. Heat waves are a deadly risk, especially for older people. But even a healthy body can have problems with extremely high temperatures. FOCUS Online explains what helps you now.

Hardly any topic is currently being discussed as intensively as the weather. More specifically, the heat. The meteorologists announce new records of around 40 degrees. The people in this country suffer from the extremely high temperatures. These are bad for your health. So far, no heat deaths have been reported in Germany.

In the hot summer of 2003, however, there were an estimated 7,600. That was the hottest summer in Europe since weather records began in the mid-20th century. 2018 was the second hottest.

Heat puts a strain on the cardiovascular system because the body has to keep its own temperature constant. Not so easy with outside temperatures that are even reaching the 40 degree mark in Germany these days. This not only puts a strain on old and sick people, but can also cause symptoms in supposedly fit people.

Symptoms are worsened by high temperatures for a number of diseases, including respiratory diseases. Because the ozone levels rise with the temperatures, which asthmatics in particular feel.

Heat deaths are mostly due to the body not being able to adapt to the extreme heat. With an estimated 7,600 deaths, the 2003 heat wave was the most serious in the period from 2001 to 2015, scientists recently reported in the specialist journal “Bundesgesundheitsblatt”. There are still no nationwide evaluations for the summer of 2018 – but experts assume around 490 deaths for Berlin alone and around 740 deaths for Hesse.

According to calculations, around 6,200 and 6,100 people died across the country in the hot summers of 2006 and 2015, respectively. Co-author Matthias an der Heiden from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin said: “You can see that there is a particular risk in the age groups 75 to 84 and over 85 years of age.” During the heat wave in June 2021, the Federal Statistical Office recorded compared to the an increase of 17 percent in recent years.

According to the scientists’ analyses, individual hot days pose less of a fatal risk – it becomes dangerous if there are several hot days in a row, explains an der Heiden. From average weekly temperatures of 20 degrees, including day and night values, more deaths would be systematically observed.

According to the study, such warm weeks have been observed much more frequently in recent decades. The trend will probably continue in the course of global warming “and possibly get worse”.

With longer-lasting heat, it becomes more and more difficult to retreat into buildings to protect themselves from the heat because they heat up more and more, said an der Heiden. “Especially people who are not so flexible, for example bedridden – they are sometimes even more at risk.”

It is important that people who are no longer able to act receive enough support: that they are brought drinks or that refreshment is provided by putting hands or feet in cool water, according to the scientist. The recommendations also included supposedly obvious things such as drinking enough.

Not only older people suffer from the heat, younger people are also plagued by circulatory problems at temperatures above 30 degrees, especially if they have not drunk enough. Regardless of your age, you should avoid five things in order to get through the hot phase well:

The body changes blood flow when it is hot to better dissipate heat. The skin is then supplied with more blood, other organs – such as the gastrointestinal tract – on the other hand less. Therefore, on particularly hot days, protect your digestive tract by only eating easily digestible food, such as soups, juices, vegetables or green salads.

Severe temperature changes can cause dizziness and headaches. If you are traveling in an air-conditioned car, you should switch off the cooling shortly before your destination in order to slowly get your body used to the outside temperature.

Seniors and weakened people should mainly stay indoors on hot days. If you have to do some shopping or other errands, postpone them until the evening hours. Then the temperatures drop and so do the ozone levels. Asthmatics should also pay attention to this.

If you train outside, it is best to do so in the morning or evening on particularly hot days. During the day, temperatures and ozone levels rise. In order not to strain your body too much, switch from jogging to walking or cycling – and don’t forget the water bottle. Breathable sportswear allows sweat to evaporate more quickly, thereby cooling the skin.

Perfumes with a strong smell can trigger headaches on hot days. Fragrances dissolve faster in heat than in cold. This can cause problems for people who are sensitive to smells. It is better to use unscented deodorants.

Why can the number of heat deaths not be given exactly, but only estimated? As an der Heiden explains, while doctors can cite heat as the cause of death, this is rarely done. The scientists therefore analyze the number of deaths with a view to days on which significantly more people die than usual. Using a mathematical model, they are systematically looking for connections between high temperatures and increased death rates.

As the “Bundesgesundheitsblatt” states, six of the eleven most extreme heat waves in the period 1950 to 2015 occurred after the year 2000. There is no uniform definition of the duration of a heat wave. To assess the severity, heat-related deaths were considered an important variable.