Most of us welcome hot weather, but when it’s too hot for too long there are health risks. Make sure the hot weather doesn’t harm you or anyone you know.
Who is most at risk?
A heatwave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people are:
- older people, especially those over 75
- babies and young children
- people with a serious chronic condition, particularly dementia, heart, breathing or mobility problems
- people with serious mental health problems
- people on certain medications, including those that affect sweating and temperature control (for example, diuretics, antihistamines, beta-blockers and antipsychotics)
- people who are already ill and dehydrated (for example, from gastroenteritis)
- people who misuse alcohol or drugs
- people who are physically active (for example, soldiers, athletes, hikers and manual workers)
- homeless people
Tips for coping in hot weather
- Shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter outside. You can open the windows for ventilation when it is cooler.
- Avoid the heat: Stay out of the sun and don’t go out between 11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day) if you’re vulnerable to the effects of heat.
- Keep rooms cool by using shades or reflective material outside the windows. If this isn’t possible, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed (metallic blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter).
- Have cool baths or showers, and splash yourself with cool water.
- Drink cold drinks regularly, such as water and diluted fruit juice. Avoid excess alcohol, caffeine (tea, coffee and cola) or drinks high in sugar.
- Listen to alerts on the radio, TV and social media about keeping cool.
- Plan ahead to make sure you have enough supplies, such as food, water and any medications you need.
- Make sure medicines are stored below 25°C or in the fridge (read the storage instructions on the packaging).
- Carry on taking all prescribed medicines unless advised not to by a medical professional. But be aware that some prescription medicines can reduce your tolerance of heat.
- Identify the coolest room in the house so you know where to go to keep cool.
- Wear loose, cool clothing, and a hat and sunglasses if you go outdoors.
- Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be less able to look after themselves.
- If you’re worried about yourself or a vulnerable neighbour, friend or relative, you can contact the local environmental health office at your local authority.
Look out for neighbours, family or friends who may be isolated and unable to care for themselves; make sure they are able to keep cool during a heatwave.
What should I look out for?
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two potentially serious conditions that can occur if you get too hot.
- Heat exhaustion is where you become very hot and start to lose water or salt from your body. Common symptoms include weakness, feeling faint, headache, muscle cramps, feeling sick, heavy sweating and intense thirst.
- Heatstroke is where the body is no longer able to cool itself and a person’s body temperature becomes dangerously high. Heatstroke is less common, but more serious. Untreated symptoms include confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness.
What can I do?
If you notice that someone has signs of heat related illness, you should:
- get them to lie down in a cool place – such as a room with air conditioning or somewhere in the shade
- remove any unnecessary clothing to expose as much of their skin as possible
- cool their skin with cool water, you could use a cool wet sponge or flannel, cool water spray, cold packs around the neck and armpits, or wrap them in a cool, wet sheet
- fan their skin while it’s moist – this will help the water to evaporate, which will help their skin cool down. An electric fan could be helpful to create an air current if the temperature is below 35oC, but fans can cause excess dehydration so they should not be aimed directly on the body and
will not be enough to keep them cool at temperatures above 35oC
- get them to drink cool fluids – these should ideally be water, diluted fruit juice or a rehydration drink, such as a sports drink
- do not give them aspirin or paracetamol – this can put the body under more strain, they should carry on taking all other prescribed medicines unless advised not to by a medical professional
- stay with the person until they’re feeling better. Most people should start to recover within 30 minutes