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Staying safe during hot weather

Although the summer holidays are over and it’s officially meteorological autumn, we’re experiencing some high temperatures in Devon this week. The UK Health Security Agency has issued an amber heat-health alert from midday today (Tuesday) until the evening of Sunday 10 September. 

The main risks during hot weather are:

We’ve put together this special edition of our newsletter to share top tips for staying safe in the sunshine and urge you to look out for those in our communities who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated.

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, diabeteskidney diseaseParkinson’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

Stay hydrated and keep cool

We sweat more in hot weather, so it’s really important to drink plenty of water to replace what our bodies have lost. It also helps cool the body and prevents heat exhaustion.

Dehydration means your body loses more fluids than you take in, and if it’s not treated, it can get worse and become a serious problem, so make sure you know how to spot the signs and reduce the risk.

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.

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.

Sunscreen and sun safety

After a wet and cool summer, it can be tempting to get outside and make the most of the sunshine when it does finally appear, but it’s important to strike a balance between getting enough vitamin D from sunlight and protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.

Spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest, which is between 11am and 3pm from March to October. And if you are out in the sun, cover up with suitable clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and regularly apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to protect against UVB and at least 4-star UVA protection. Sunscreen doesn’t have to be expensive – look for supermarket and pharmacy own brands to help reduce the cost.

Make sure you never burn, as this can increase your risk of skin cancer. And remember, you can burn in the UK even when it’s cloudy. 

Heatstroke and heat exhaustion

When it’s too hot, there are risks to our health, particularly the elderly or people with underlying conditions, and during heatwaves, more people than usual get seriously ill or die.

If you or someone else feels unwell with a high temperature, headache, loss of appetite, dizziness 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:

  • move them to a cool place
  • get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly
  • get them to drink plenty of water
  • cool their skin – spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them

Heat exhaustion doesn’t usually need emergency medical help if you can cool the person down within 30 minutes. However, if they’re still unwell after half an hour, and have a very high temperature, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath and are confused or lack coordination, call 999.

Water safety

Although it might be hot outside, please remember that water temperatures can be very cold. As inviting as it looks, don’t just jump straight in, as cold water shock could make you gasp uncontrollably, and you could breathe in water and drown.

Wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering cold water shock, and remember to take plenty of warm clothes for before and after your dip, along with a hot drink to help you warm up again when you come out of the water.

Keep a close eye on friends and family around water, especially children, and don’t let anyone swim alone. Check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage to understand local risks and if in doubt, stay out. There is always another day to go for a swim!

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 see someone else in trouble in the water, call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.