Coping with Hot Weather

What effect can a prolonged hot spell have?

Hot weather, especially when prolonged, with warm nights, can have effects on people's health and on certain infrastructure. To aid preparation and awareness before and during a prolonged hot spell, a Heat Wave Plan for England has been produced by Public Health England in association with the Met Office and other partners. It recommends a series of steps to reduce the risks to health from prolonged exposure to severe heat for:

  • The NHS, local authorities, social care, and other public agencies
  • Professionals working with people at risk
  • Individuals, local communities and voluntary groups

What is a heatwave?

Although there is no official definition of a 'heatwave' in the UK, the term can be used to describe an extended period of hot weather relative to the expected conditions of the area at that time of year.

Public Health England provides a heat-health watch service for England. The heat-health watch system comprises four levels of response based upon threshold maximum daytime and minimum night-time temperatures. These thresholds vary by region, but an average threshold temperature is 30 °C by day and 15 °C overnight for at least two consecutive days. These temperatures can have a significant effect on people's health if they last for at least two days and the night in between.

  • Level one: This is the minimum alert and is in place every year from 1 June until 15 September, which is the period that heat-health alerts are likely to be issued. This minimum alert simply means that people should be aware of what to do if the alert level is raised.
  • Level two: Issued when there is a high chance that the threshold will be exceeded within the next few days
  • Level three: Issued when the thresholds have been exceeded
  • Level four: Issued when a prolonged hot spell becomes severe

Stay safe in the sun - cover up

So what precautions can you take in hot weather?

  • Stay out of the heat
  • Keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm
  • If you have to go out in the heat, wear UV sunglasses, preferably wraparound, to reduce UV exposure to the eyes, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen of at least SPF15 with UVA protection, wear a hat. Wear light, loose-fitting cotton clothes. This should minimise the risk of sunburn
  • Avoid extreme physical exertion. If you can’t avoid strenuous outdoor activity, such as sport, DIY or gardening, keep it for cooler parts of the day – for example, in the early morning or evening
  • Have plenty of cold drinks, and avoid excess alcohol, caffeine or drinks high in sugar. If drinking fruit juice, dilute it with water. Eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high water content. and when travelling ensure you take water with you
  • Look out for others: Keep an eye on isolated, older people, ill or very young people and make sure they are able to keep cool. Check on older people or sick neighbours, family or friends every day during a heatwave. Be alert and call a doctor or social services if someone is unwell or further help is needed
  • Children should not take part in vigorous physical activity on very hot days, such as when temperatures are above 30°C
  • Ensure that babies, children or older people are not left alone in stationary cars.
  • Keep your environment cool: keeping your living space cool is especially important for infants, older people or those with long-term health conditions or anyone who cannot look after themselves
  • Shade or cover windows exposed to direct sunlight and keep windows that are exposed to the sun, closed during the day. External shutters or shades are very effective, while internal blinds or curtains are less effective but cheaper and easier to install. However, care should be taken with metal blinds and dark curtains, as these can absorb heat – consider placing reflective material between them and the window space
  • Open windows at night if it feels cooler outside, although be aware of security issues - especially in ground floor rooms. Close curtains that receive morning or afternoon sun.
  • Turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment – they generate heat
  • Keep indoor plants and bowls of water in the house as evaporation helps cool the air
  • Electric fans may provide some relief, if temperatures are below 35°C
  • Seek medical advice if you are suffering from a long-term medical condition or taking multiple medications and have unusual symptoms.
  • If you or others feel unwell, seek medical advice
  • If you feel dizzy, weak, anxious or have intense thirst and headache, move to a cool place as soon as possible. Drink some water or diluted fruit juice to rehydrate, avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks like tea or coffee.
  • If you have painful muscular spasms (particularly in the legs, arms or abdomen, for example after sustained exercise during very hot weather), rest immediately in a cool place and drink electrolyte drinks. We say that most people should start to recover within 30mins and if not, they should seek medical help. Consult your doctor if you feel unusual symptoms, or if symptoms persist.

 

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