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Advice for vulnerable people during a heatwave

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Last month saw the UK smash all existing temperature records, as an unprecedented heatwave caused thermometers to reach 40°C for the first time. With a warmer than average summer currently ongoing, we’ve put together a few tips to help you cope with the hot weather.

We often spend long periods of the year stuck with really dull and miserable weather, so we usually see it as a welcome break whenever get a glimpse of clear blue sky and warm weather. However, it’s easy to get carried away and ignore the possible health risks associated with heat and strong sunlight.

Extreme heat can be particularly dangerous if not taken seriously. It’s important to stay cool and plan ahead if we ever need to venture out. Not only that, those who are more vulnerable to health concerns will need to take extra care. This includes young children and babies, the elderly, people with chronic conditions and pregnant women.

Whether you fall into one of these categories, or you are caring for somebody who does, we’d like to share a few tips to help you keep cool and safe during a bout of extreme heat.

Stay hydrated

First things first, make sure you drink plenty of fluids. This may seem like an obvious one but it’s surprising how many times people experience heat related problems because of dehydration.

Your body is constantly on a mission to regulate its core temperature so you don’t get too hot or too cold. In extreme heat, you will sweat more as a way of keeping cool. However, the more you sweat, the more water your body loses.

That’s why it’s important to keep taking in fluids to replenish what your body loses through sweating. Water, fruit juice and even tea are all ideal for keeping you hydrated throughout the day, but it’s best to avoid too much alcohol which can lead to dehydration later on.

While staying hydrated is important, there are plenty of preventative things you can do to stop your body from losing excess moisture by keeping your core body temperature down.

Keep as cool as possible

When the sunlight is getting strong and the heat is rising, it’s often a good idea to stay indoors and create as much shade as possible. For a period of the day, it will generally be much cooler indoors than outdoors. This will usually occur between the hours of 11am to 3pm, when the sun is at its highest and strongest. Late afternoon and early evening can also be warm as the heat is retained for a long time afterwards.

To keep your home from accidentally feeling like a greenhouse, try keeping the curtains closed, particularly in rooms with south-facing windows where the sunlight coming in will be strongest. If the temperature outside is warmer than indoors, it’s also best to keep windows closed to stop the warm air coming in. Of course, if it’s a bit cooler and breezy, having a window open should help.

It’s certainly useful to have a fan or two in the house, but this will contribute to your energy usage at a time when bills are a significant worry. Alternative ways to keep cool include wearing thin, loose-fitting clothing, as well as keeping flannels or towels in the freezer to cool yourself down with later on.

When extreme heat becomes a problem

While you can take all the necessary precautions, you or those you care for may still succumb to heat related health problems. The most common ones to consider are heat exhaustion and heatstroke. In both of these cases, it is vital to get the patient to cool down as rapidly as possible.

Heat exhaustion is typically not too serious if you can cool down as soon as you recognise the signs. Exhaustion occurs when a person has spent too long in high temperatures that they lose too much fluid and salt from sweating. Headaches, dizziness and nausea are all key symptoms. This should prompt you or your loved one to get lots of water to drink and even a snack to boost salt levels, whilst finding a cool place or even taking a quick cold shower if possible.

Heatstroke is much more serious and can be life threatening if not dealt with quickly. Becoming dangerously overheated and dehydrated, the body can’t cope with the extreme heat any more. Dizziness, confusion and hot flushed skin are signifiers of heatstroke and it’s possible the patient may even become unresponsive. It’s vital to seek emergency assistance straight away so call 999 if you suspect heatstroke, particularly in a vulnerable person.

In any case, keeping as cool as possible is imperative. Use cold water, sponges and flannels, and remove any extra unnecessary layers of clothing if you or your loved ones feel as though they aren’t coping with the heat.

More guidance is available from the NHS website to help you beat the hot weather and stay safe during another heatwave.