Heatwaves kill more people worldwide than any other extreme weather event. Climate change is already increasing the intensity and frequency of heatwaves. Most of us welcome hot weather, but when it's too hot for too long, there are health risks.
In England, there are on average 2,000 heat related deaths every year. If hot weather hits this summer, make sure it does not harm you or anyone you know.
Why is a heatwave a problem?
The main risks posed by a heatwave are:
- not drinking enough water
- overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing
- heat exhaustion and heatstroke
Who's most at risk?
A heatwave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people are:
- older people - especially those over 75
- those who live on their own or in a care home
- people who have a serious or long-term illness - including heart or lung conditions, diabetes, Kidney disease, Parkinson's disease or some mental health conditions
- those who may find it hard to keep cool - babies and the very young, the bed bound, those with drug or alcohol addictions or with Alzheimer's disease
- people who spend a lot of time outside or in hot places - those who live in a top floor flat, the homeless or those whose jobs are outside
Tips for coping in hot weather
- look out for those who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated - older people, those with underlying health conditions and those who live alone are particularly at risk
- stay cool indoors - many of us will need to stay safe at home this summer so know how to keep your home cool
- close curtains on rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler and remember it may be cooler outdoors than indoors
- if going outdoors, use cool spaces considerately, keep your distance in line with social distancing guidelines
- follow coronavirus social distancing guidance and wash your hands regularly
- drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol
- never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially infants, young children or animals
- try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm
- walk in the shade, apply sunscreen regularly and wear a wide brimmed hat, if you have to go out in the heat
- avoid exercising in the hottest parts of the day
- make sure you take water with you, if you are travelling
- if you are going into open water to cool down, take care and follow local safety advice
For more information visit GOV.UK: Heatwave Plan for England.
If you have concerns about an uncomfortably hot house that's affecting your health or someone else's, get medical advice.
Watch out for signs of heat related illness
If you or someone else feels unwell with a high temperature during hot weather, it may be heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Heat exhaustion is not usually serious if you can cool down within 30 minutes. If it turns into heatstroke, it needs to be treated as an emergency.
Check for signs of heat exhaustion
The signs of heat exhaustion include:
- a headache
- dizziness and confusion
- loss of appetite and feeling sick
- excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
- cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
- fast breathing or pulse
- a high temperature of 38C or above
- being very thirsty
The symptoms are often the same in adults and children, although children may become floppy and sleepy.
If someone is showing signs of heat exhaustion, they need to be cooled down.
Things you can do to cool someone down
If someone has heat exhaustion, follow these 4 steps:
- Move them to a cool place.
- Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.
- Get them to drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are OK.
- Cool their skin - spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are good, too.
Stay with them until they're better.
They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes.
Immediate action required: Call 999 if:
You or someone else have any signs of heatstroke:
- feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
- not sweating even while feeling too hot
- a high temperature of 40C or above
- fast breathing or shortness of breath
- feeling confused
- a fit (seizure)
- loss of consciousness
- not responsive
Heatstroke can be very serious if not treated quickly.
Put the person in the recovery position if they lose consciousness while you're waiting for help.
Preventing heat exhaustion and heatstroke
There's a high risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke during hot weather or exercise.
To help prevent heat exhaustion or heatstroke:
- drink plenty of cold drinks, especially when exercising
- take cool baths or showers
- wear light-coloured, loose clothing
- sprinkle water over skin or clothes
- avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm
- avoid excess alcohol
- avoid extreme exercise
This will also prevent dehydration and help your body keep itself cool.
Keep an eye on children, the elderly and people with long-term health conditions (like diabetes or heart problems) because they're more at risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Information extracted from:
- Heatwave: how to cope in hot weather - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
- Heat exhaustion and heatstroke - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Advice for those with pets
- Provide animals with access to shade and fresh water
- Avoid walking dogs during the heat of the day - walk dogs very early in the morning or late at night to avoid heat stroke and burnt paws on tarmac/hot surfaces
- Do not overexert dogs during their walks as they will not be able to tolerate long walks and lots of play for prolonged periods
- Ensure that animals are not left in vehicles