It’s hot out there!
The Met Office has issued a ‘Level 3 Amber Extreme Heat Warning’ for all of the South West, with temperatures expected to peak with highs of 30C on Thursday.
Most of us welcome the arrival of summer, with the chance to get outside and enjoy the sunny 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 and this year the risks may be amplified by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve put together this special bulletin to share top tips for staying safe in the summer sunshine and urge you to look out for those in our communities who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated.
Hot weather can be a problem, especially this year
Temperatures indoors can be higher than those outdoors, and this year more people than usual may need to stay at home, particularly if they have to self-isolate because they, or someone they are a close contact of, tests positive for COVID-19.
The main risks during hot weather are:
- not drinking enough water (dehydration)
- overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing
- heat exhaustion and heatstroke
Take extra care if you are vulnerable and look out for those most at risk
The heat can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people are:
- older people – especially those over 75 years old
- 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 very young children, people who are 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.
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.
People who are managing a COVID-19 infection at home may struggle to keep cool, particularly if they are running a fever. Recovery from a COVID-19 infection can take some time. Those recovering at home after a severe COVID-19 infection may have some ongoing organ damage, which means that they will be more vulnerable to the effects of heat than usual, and so it is especially important that they stay cool and hydrated.
Top tips for staying safe in the heat
Sweating is your body’s natural way of keeping you cool. Some sweat evaporates from your skin, taking heat with it, the rest runs down your face and body.
We sweat more in hot weather, so it’s really important to drink lots of water to replace what our bodies have lost. It also helps cool the body and prevent heat exhaustion. Our physical thirst is not a very reliable indicator of how dehydrated we are (urine colour is better), so you should try to drink plenty before you feel parched. Try not to drink caffeine or alcohol, as they are diuretics that can increase dehydration.
Foods with high water content such as strawberries, cucumber, lettuce, celery and melon can also help you stay hydrated. Try to avoid large, heavy meals laden with carbohydrates and protein because they take more digesting, which in turn produces more body heat.
Dehydration means your body loses more fluids than you take in. If it’s not treated, it can get worse and become a serious problem. Visit the NHS website to find out more about how to spot the signs of dehydration and reduce the risk.
Many of us will need to stay safe at home this summer, for example if you have to self-isolate, so know how to keep your home cool. Close curtains in rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler, spend time in cooler parts of the house (especially for sleeping), open windows when the air feels cooler outside and try to get air flowing through your home.
If you are going outside, try to avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day, between 11.00am and 3.00pm when the UV rays are strongest. Stay in the shade, drink plenty of water, apply sunscreen regularly and wear a wide brimmed hat. You should also avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day.
What we wear can make a real difference to how our bodies handle heat. Avoid the temptation to strip off, because you may be at greater risk of sunburn, which can affect your body’s ability to cool itself. Instead wear light colours (dark colours absorb more of the light, converting it into heat) and loose cotton or linen garments that are more breathable, absorbent and encourage ventilation.
Cold showers, filling up a hot water bottle with ice and blotting your skin with damp, cold cloth can help keep you cool. And placing a bowl of ice at an angle in front of a fan can help cool the air indoors.
Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially young children and animals and if you are going into open water to cool down, take care and follow local safety advice.
Take care of yourself and each other
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, is urging residents to beat the heat and look out for most vulnerable in our communities as temperatures continue soar. He says:
“The hot weather can affect anyone, and much of the advice on beating the heat is common sense, but for the most vulnerable such as very young children, older people aged over 75 years old, those who live alone or in a care home and people who have a serious or long-term illness, the summer heat can be really quite dangerous.
“That’s why we’re urging everyone to keep an eye on those you know who may be vulnerable during the hot weather. Look out for those who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated and ask if your friends, family or neighbours need any support.
“It’s vital we all follow the advice on coping with hot weather and adapt what we do, particularly with many people self-isolating at home at the moment and our local NHS services already under pressure.”
If you or someone else feels unwell with a high temperature during hot weather, it may be heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Visit the NHS website to find out more about the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and when to get help.
Heat exhaustion, heatstroke and COVID-19
Some symptoms of heat-related illnesses, such as a high temperature, headache, loss of appetite, feeling dizzy or shortness of breath can be similar to symptoms of COVID-19. If you or someone else feels unwell with a high temperature during hot weather, you should consider the possibility of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke. If, however, you suspect that you have COVID-19 please self isolate and get a test as soon as possible.
If someone is showing signs of heat exhaustion they need to be cooled down. The NHS advises that there are four things you can do to cool someone down and they should feel better within 30 minutes:
- 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 are better and call 999 if the person is:
- No better after 30 minutes
- Still feeling hot and dry
- Not sweating even though they are too hot
- Showing a temperature that’s risen to 40°c or above
- Experiencing rapid or shortness of breath or is confused, has a fit or loses consciousness
Any of these could be a sign of heatstroke which is a medical emergency and can be very serious if not treated quickly. Call 999 and put the person in the recovery position if they lose consciousness while you’re waiting for help.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.