How to stay safe in hot weather: Top tips to avoid heatstroke this summer

·6-min read
Woman in hot weather with heatstroke. (Getty Images)
Preventing heatstroke during this week's hot weather is key. (Getty Images)

With the nation gearing towards hot weather highs of 34C on Friday – which could be the warmest June day for Britain since records began if temperatures end up exceeding 35.6C – many of us are looking forward to sunning ourselves on the beach, in a beer garden or our local park.

But with the hot weather comes a level two heat-health alert from the Met Office and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), covering the East Midlands, east of England, London, the southeast and southwest regions, with the likelihood of a heatwave high. Meanwhile, a level one warning has been issued for northern England.

As temperatures this week are due to be hotter than Jamaica and Hawaii, this is an important reminder that we can't forget to take safety measures seriously and avoid heatstroke this summer.

"We want everyone to enjoy the hot weather safely when it arrives and be aware of good health advice for coping with warmer conditions," says Dr Agostinho Sousa, Head of Extreme Events and Health Protection at UKHSA.

"During periods of hot weather, it is especially important to keep checking on those who are most vulnerable, such as older people and those with heart or lung conditions. Make sure to look out for signs of heat exhaustion and follow our simple health advice to beat the heat."

Read more: Hot weather fitness mistakes we're all making

What is heatstroke?

Young people enjoying drinks during happy hour at terrace bar toasting with beers and chatting. (Getty Images)
Al fresco drinking can increase the risk of heatstroke. (Getty Images)

“Heatstroke occurs when you have been exposed to a hot temperature for a prolonged period of time,” Dr Sonal Shah, NHS GP and lifestyle medicine expert, previously explained to Yahoo Life UK.

But understanding the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke is important because one comes before the other.

Heat exhaustion will likely strike first, but if you ignore the signs you could be on a one-way ticket to heatstroke and that’s not somewhere you want to be.

“Initially people may experience headaches, dizziness or light-headedness,” Dr Shah continued. “They may also notice that their skin is red, inflamed or has small bumps on it. Others also describe muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and even palpitations.”

Dr Shah said that in some cases people develop a mild temperature, of around 38C.

“We call this heat exhaustion,” he said. “If people experience any of these symptoms they should move away from the sun to a shaded area and efforts should be made to cool them down either with fans or even a cool shower. Give them plenty to drink to help rehydrate them.”

Though in most cases symptoms will improve within half an hour, if people remain exposed to high temperatures they may experience heatstroke, a dangerous condition that needs urgent treatment.

“With heatstroke people may appear agitated, confused, have seizures, or even become unconscious and immediate emergency help should be sought,” Dr Shah warned.

Read more: Reverse SAD: Why summer isn't good news for everyone

Who is most at risk of heatstroke?

According to Dr Shah, though sitting in the sun is fun and enjoyable for most of us, there are certain people who must take extra care. This includes young people and babies, elderly people or those with chronic conditions.

“In the hot weather it may also be worth checking on elderly neighbours or relatives to ensure they are not unwell due to the weather,” she added, echoing official advice.

What can you do to prevent heatstroke?

Woman sitting in the shade. (Getty Images)
Sit in the shade when the sun is at its hottest, or if you start to experience heat-related symptoms. (Getty Images)

“Avoid getting heatstroke by not sitting in the direct sun between 11-3 when the sun is at its hottest, make efforts to stay cool, drinking well and avoiding too many sugary or alcoholic drinks as these have dehydrating effects,” advised Dr Shah.

So while it might be tempting to sip an aperol spritz or two in the sunshine, moderation coupled with following other precautions is key.

Perhaps one of the most important heatstroke preventions is drinking plenty of fluids.

On a normal day people need around 1.5 to 2 litres of water day, which is about eight to 10 glasses.

But in hot weather you can become dehydrated quicker, so drink more often and aim for at least two litres.

The top ways for staying safe in the heat, as listed by the UKHSA, are to:

  • look out for those who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated – older people, those with underlying conditions and those who live alone are particularly at risk

  • stay cool indoors by closing curtains on rooms that face the sun – and remember that it may be cooler outdoors than indoors

  • drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol

  • never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially infants, young children or animals

  • try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm, when the UV rays are strongest

  • walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat, if you have to go out in the heat

  • avoid physical exertion in the hottest parts of the day

  • make sure you take water with you if you are travelling

  • take care and make sure to follow local safety advice if you are going into the water to cool down

Some further tips for people to avoid heatstroke, as listed by the NHS, are to:

  • take cool baths or showers

  • wear light-coloured, loose clothing

  • sprinkle water over skin or clothes

  • avoid extreme exercise

  • if you are going into open water to cool down, take care and follow local safety advice

Read more: This cooling pillow could help you sleep in the heat: 'like magic'

How can heat exhaustion be treated?

Man drinking water after suffering from heat exhaustion. (Getty Images)
If you feel like you might be starting to suffer from heat exhaustion move out of the sun and drink plenty of fluids. (Getty Images)

To cool someone down who might be suffering from heat exhaustion, in order to prevent heatstroke as explained above, the NHS advises following four steps.

  1. Move them to a cool place

  2. Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly

  3. Get them to drink plenty of water (sports or rehydration drinks are OK)

  4. Cool their skin – spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them (cold packs around the armpits or neck are good, to)

Stay with them until they're better.

They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes.

But, if you suspect someone is suffering from heatstroke, you should seek emergency help immediately.

Call 999 if you or someone else have any of these signs:

  • feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water

  • not sweating even while feeling too hot

  • a high temperature of 40C or above

  • fast breathing or shortness of breath

  • feeling confused

  • a fit (seizure)

  • loss of consciousness

  • not responsive

Heatstroke can be very serious if not treated quickly.

Put the person in the recovery position if they lose consciousness while you're waiting for help.

Taking all these precautions seriously, will allow you and your loved ones to safely enjoy the sunshine, while avoiding heatstroke this summer.

For more information visit the the NHS' page on heatwaves and how to cope in hot weather.

Watch: Top tips for protecting your skin in the sun

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