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Staying safe in extreme heat

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At this time of year, most of us look forward to a clear blue sky with a bright sun. Being able to enjoy warm weather and spend time outdoors with friends and family. It makes a huge difference to what can feel like a long, cold winter – and after the pandemic, we need a good summer more than ever.

We want everyone to be able to enjoy the warm weather all summer long, but very high temperatures can have major health implications for some. When the heat rises, it can lead to more illness and deaths in England.

From June to September we provide heat warnings as needed and more information and advice on what each level means can be found here.

Every year we see additional deaths during periods of warm weather. In the summer of 2021, there were only eight days of weather that required a Level 3 heat warning and 915 additional death analyzes were shown during this time.

Although this was a very short period of time there were real health consequences for many people and unfortunately this shows that the saying ‘a little hot weather never hurt anyone’ is simply not true and many of these deaths and health problems can be avoided. Wherever there is clear evidence of a health security risk, we provide public health advice to help people minimize those risks.

We are currently experiencing a prolonged period of extreme heat. Therefore, we must be prepared for the real possibility of serious health effects and take the necessary steps to avoid them.

It is important that we all take sensible precautions to avoid becoming unwell and to enjoy the warm weather safely. If you have vulnerable family, friends, and neighbors, make sure they know how to protect themselves from the hot weather. It is possible for people to experience heat exhaustion and in very serious situations it can turn into heat stroke.

More information is available in the NHS advice on dealing with heat waves.

Who is vulnerable?

While everyone is at risk from the health effects of heat, there are certain factors that increase an individual’s risk during a heat wave. Among which:

  • older age: mainly people older than 75 years, single people and socially isolated, or people living in a care home
  • chronic and severe illness: including heart or lung disease, diabetes, renal insufficiency, Parkinson’s disease, or severe mental illness
  • inability to adjust behavior to keep cool: babies and very young children, having disabilities, being bedridden, having Alzheimer’s disease
  • environmental factors and over-exposure: living in a top-floor flat, being homeless, doing activities or jobs in hot places or outdoors and with a high degree of physical exertion

An image of a woman with cropped white hair smiling and making a phone call while sitting on a couch.  The text on the image reads: Beware of people who struggle to keep cool.  Watch out for vulnerable family, friends, neighbors and make sure they know how to stay cool and dehydrated.  The elderly and people with underlying health problems are especially at risk.

What can we do to stay safe?

There are some very simple things we can all do to stay safe when we experience very high temperatures.

  • beware of those who struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated – older people, those with underlying conditions and those living alone are at particular risk
  • stay cool indoors by closing curtains for rooms facing the sun – and remember that it can be cooler outside than inside
  • drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol
  • never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially infants, young children or animals
  • check that refrigerators, freezers and fans are working properly
  • try to stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm, when the UV rays are strongest
  • walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat if you must go outside in the heat
  • avoid physical exertion in the hottest parts of the day
  • make sure you take water with you when you travel
  • use caution and follow local safety advice when entering the water to cool off
  • check medicines can be stored according to the instructions on the package

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Heat exhaustion is usually not serious if you can cool down within 30 minutes. If it turns into heat stroke, it should be treated as an emergency.

Heat exhaustion can be:

  • headache
  • dizziness and confusion
  • loss of appetite and nausea
  • excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
  • cramps in arms, legs and abdomen
  • rapid breathing or pulse
  • a high temperature of 38C or higher
  • being very thirsty

The symptoms are often the same in adults and children, although children can become drowsy and sleepy.

If someone shows signs of heat exhaustion, they should be cooled down. To do this, you must:

  • Move them to a cool place.
  • Have them lie down and lift their feet slightly.
  • Make them drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are okay.
  • Cool their skin – spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them out. Cold compresses around the armpits or neck are also good.
  • Stay with them until they are better. They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes.

You should call 999 if you or someone you are with shows any of the signs of heat stroke:

  • feeling unwell after resting for 30 minutes in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
  • don’t sweat even when it’s too hot
  • a high temperature of 40C or higher
  • rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • feeling confused
  • an attack (attack)
  • loss of consciousness
  • not responding

The NHS website has more information on heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

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