The majority of us look forward to summer as a welcome break from the seemingly endless UK winters, but the recent heatwave brings along with it discomfort and health risks. It’s important not to just take care of yourself but friends and neighbours too. Hot weather can be great, but when it’s too hot for too long it brings problems. We are already in the midst of a heatwave, so make sure the hot weather doesn’t harm you or anyone you know.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS
Dehydration – not taking enough fluids can result in dizziness and serious discomfort
Overheating – can make symptoms worse for the elderly who may already have heart or breathing problems
Heat exhaustion can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures, and it is often accompanied by dehydration.
THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF HEAT EXHAUSTION: WATER DEPLETION AND SALT DEPLETION
Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting, cramps and feeling dizzy or light-headed.
Although heat exhaustion is by no means as serious as heat stroke, it isn’t something to be taken lightly. Without prompt and proper treatment heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs, and in the most serious of cases even cause death.
If you or anyone you know exhibits symptoms of heat exhaustion, it’s essential to immediately get out of the heat and rest in a cool room. If you are out and about and can’t get inside, try to find the nearest cool and shady place away from direct sunlight.
WHO ARE MOST AT RISK?
A heatwave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people include the following:
- Elderly people, especially those over 75
- Babies and young children
- People with mobility problems; for example, anyone with Parkinson’s disease or who has had a stroke
- People with serious mental health problems
- People on certain medications, particularly those that affect sweating and temperature control
- Those who misuse alcohol or drugs
We may already be in the middle of a heatwave but that doesn’t mean that another is not yet to come.
The Meteorological Office offers a system that issues alerts if a heatwave is likely:
Level 1: Minimum alert and is in place from June 1 until September 15
Level 2: A heatwave is forecast
The Met Office raises an alert if there is a high chance that an average temperature of 30°C by day and 15°C overnight will occur over the next 2 to 3 days.
No immediate action is required, but follow these simple steps in preparation:
- Stay tuned in to the weather forecast on the radio, TV or social media, or the Met Office.
- If you’re planning to travel, check the forecast at your destination.
Level 3: A heatwave is happening
This alert is triggered when the Met Office advises that there will be very high temperatures in one or more regions.
Follow the instructions for a level 2 alert.
Level 4: Severe heatwave
This is the highest heatwave alert. It is triggered when a heatwave is severe and likely to last for some time.
At level 4, the health risks from a heatwave can affect everyone and not just those in high-risk groups.
TIPS FOR COPING WITH THE HOT WEATHER
- Keep the windows closed and close the curtains or blinds. You can open them again for ventilation later in the day when it gets cooler.
- Stay out of the sun and don’t go out between 11am and 3pm. Remember, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”.
- Where possible, try to keep rooms cool by using reflective material such as aluminium foil outside the windows. If this isn’t an option, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed.
- Have cool baths or showers as often as needed.
- Drink cold drinks regularly and avoid excess alcohol or any drinks that are high in sugar.
- Listen to alerts on the radio, TV and social media about keeping cool.
- If you hear a heatwave warning, make sure you have sufficient supplies of food, water and any medications you need.
- A small air conditioning unit is not too expensive and can be found at most DIY stores. Just use it to keep one room cool so you have somewhere to go if you feel uncomfortable.
- Wear loose, light clothing and a hat if you need to go outdoors.
If you’re worried about yourself, neighbours, friends or relatives, you can contact your local health authority.
Environmental health workers can visit a home to inspect it for hazards to health, including excess heat. Visit gov.uk to find your local authority.