It’s hot out there!
The Met Office has said temperatures will continue to rise this week, and it is likely to be very hot here in the south-west on Friday.
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.
We’ve put together this special edition of our newsletter 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.
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
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, is urging residents to beat the heat and look out for the most vulnerable in our communities as temperatures look set to soar this week. He says:
“Devon is a great place to be whatever the weather, and when the sun shines everyone is more likely to be enjoying the great outdoors.
“But the summer heat can be dangerous, so please make sure you stay safe in the sun by covering up, using sunscreen and keeping hydrated. It’s also a good idea to avoid being out in the peak heat from around 11am to 3pm, and find ways to stay cool such as moving to shaded areas, taking cool showers and keeping curtains closed during the day.
“Please also look out for the most vulnerable in our communities over the summer months. Although much of the advice about beating the heat is common sense, some people may need extra help coping with the hot weather and keeping cool.
“It’s vital we all follow the advice and adapt what we do when needed, so we don’t put our local NHS services under any more pressure.”
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
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 prevents 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.
If you are going outside
Try to avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day, between 11am and 3pm when the UV rays are strongest. Stay in the shade, drink plenty of water, apply sunscreen regularly and wear a wide brimmed hat. Cold showers, filling up a hot water bottle with ice and blotting your skin with damp, cold cloth can help keep you cool. You should also avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day.
What to wear
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.
Beware cold water
If you’re heading to the coast, please remember that water temperatures remain dangerously cold. As inviting as it looks, don’t just jump straight in to the sea as cold water shock could make you gasp uncontrollably, and you could breathe in water and drown. If you get into trouble in the water, the RNLI urge you to remember ‘Float to Live’ – resist the urge to thrash about, instead lean back, extend your arms and legs and gently move them around to stay afloat, once you can control your breathing, call for help or swim to safety.
If you are inside
If you’re indoors, 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. Placing a bowl of ice at an angle in front of a fan can also help cool the air indoors.
Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially young children and animals.
Sunburn is hot and sore skin caused by too much sun. It may flake and peel after a few days. You can treat it yourself, and it usually gets better within seven days.
You can treat sunburn yourself by:
- getting out of the sun as soon as possible
- cooling your skin with a cool shower, bath or damp towel
- applying after-sun cream or spray
- drinking plenty of water to cool down and prevent dehydration
- taking painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for any pain
- covering sunburnt skin from direct sunlight until skin has fully healed
Don’t put petroleum jelly or ice/ ice packs on sunburnt skin, and avoid wearing tight fitting clothes and removing any peeling skin.
If you feel like you need additional treatment, speak to a pharmacist.
If your sunburn is severe your skin may also blister and you may feel tired, dizzy or sick. Severe sunburn can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke, which can be very serious. You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
If you or someone else feels unwell with a high temperature, headache, loss of appetite, feeling dizzy or shortness of breath during hot weather, you should consider the possibility of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
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, which are:
- 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.