The sun is shining in the blue sky with some scattered white clouds

At this time of year most of us are waiting for a bright blue sky with sunlight. Being able to enjoy warm weather with friends and family and spend time outside. This makes a huge difference in what it can feel like a long, cold winter – and we need a better summer than ever after an epidemic.

We want everyone to be able to enjoy hot weather throughout the summer, but too much temperature can have significant health consequences for some. When the heat rises, it can lead to illness and death in England.

Throughout June through September we issue heat warnings as needed and more information and advice on what each level means can be found here.

Every year we see extra deaths during hot weather. In the summer of 2021, a Level 3 heat alert was required for only eight days of weather and an analysis of 915 additional deaths has been shown during this period.

Although it was a very short time, it had a real health impact for many people and unfortunately it shows that the saying ‘a little hot weather never hurts anyone’ is simply not true and many deaths and health problems can be avoided. Wherever there is clear evidence of health protection risks, we would recommend public health to minimize these risks.

We are currently experiencing an extended period of extreme heat. Therefore, we need to be prepared for the real potential of serious health effects and take the necessary steps to try to avoid them.

It is important for all of us to take wise precautions to avoid getting sick and to enjoy hot weather safely. If you have weak family, friends and neighbors, make sure they are aware of how they can protect themselves from the warm weather. It is possible that people may feel heat exhaustion and in very severe situations it can be a heat stroke.

More information is available in the NHS consultation on dealing with heatstroke.

Who is vulnerable?

Although everyone is at risk from the health consequences of heat, there are some factors that increase a person’s risk during heat stroke. These include:

  • Older age: especially those over 75 years of age, or those who live on their own and those who are socially isolated, or those who are in a care home
  • Chronic and serious illness: including heart or lung condition, diabetes, renal insufficiency, Parkinson’s disease or severe mental illness
  • Inability to adapt to colds: Children and adolescents with disabilities, bed rest, Alzheimer’s disease
  • Environmental factors and additional exposure: living in an upstairs flat, being homeless, activities or jobs that are in or out of a hot place and include high levels of physical activity

A picture of a woman with cut white hair sitting on a sofa smiling and talking on the phone.  Read the graphic text: Look for people who can fight to stay cool.  Look for vulnerable family, friends, neighbors and make sure they are aware of how to keep them cool and dehydrated.  Older people and people with underlying health conditions are particularly at risk.

What can we do to stay safe?

There are a few very common things we can all do to stay safe when we feel very high temperatures.

  • Watch out for those who can fight to keep themselves cool and hydrated – older people, those with underlying conditions and those who live alone are particularly at risk
  • Turn off the curtains of the room facing the sun and stay cool indoors – and remember that it can be colder outside than inside the house.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol
  • Never leave off, parked vehicles, especially children, toddlers or animals
  • Check that the fridge, freezer and fan are working properly
  • Try to stay away from the sun from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., when UV rays are most powerful
  • Walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat if you need to go out in the heat
  • Avoid physical activity in the warmest part of the day
  • Be sure to take water with you if you travel
  • Be careful and be sure to follow local safety tips if you are going to be cold in the water
  • Check medicines can be stored according to the packaging instructions

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke

If you can cool down in 30 minutes, heat exhaustion is usually not severe. If it turns into a heatstroke, it needs to be considered urgent.

Heat exhaustion may include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Decreased appetite and feeling sick
  • Excessive sweating and pale, tight skin
  • Cramps in arms, legs and abdomen
  • Rapid 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 be floppy and sleepy.

If anyone shows signs of heat exhaustion, they need to be cooled. To do this you should:

  • Move them to a cool place.
  • Lay them down and raise their legs slightly.
  • Make them drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are fine.
  • Cool their skin – spray or sponge with cold water and fan them. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are also good.
  • Stay with them until they get better. They will start to cool down in 30 minutes and will feel better.

If you or someone with you shows any signs of heat stroke, you should call 999:

  • Feeling sick after resting for 30 minutes in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
  • Do not sweat even when feeling very hot
  • A high temperature of 40C or above
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Feelings are confused
  • A fit (injury)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Not reactive

The NHS website has more information about heat fatigue and heat stroke.

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