Staying cool in a heatwave
Tips to keep you cool when it’s very hot and what else you can do during these season.
Information and advice you need to help you love later life. We’re Age UK and our goal is to enable older people to love later life.
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This information guide has been prepared by The Leading Care Company and contains general advice only, it should not be relied on as a basis for any decision or action and cannot be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The Leading Care Company Neither nor any companies mentioned in this article accepts any liability arising from its use and it is the reader’s sole responsibility to ensure any information is up to date and accurate.
This article about Staying cool in a heatwave cover the following
- What this guide is about
- Avoiding heat-related illness
- Looking after your skin
- Sun exposure and vitamin D
- Dehydration and overheating
- Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
- What else can you do?
- Useful organisations
What this article is about?
We all look forward to a good summer, even though we’re sometimes disappointed! But very high temperatures and humidity can present a risk to health, and older people can be particularly susceptible to heat-related illness. It’s important to remember that high temperatures in the UK can be just as dangerous as high temperatures abroad. And don’t get caught out during unseasonably warm weather, as temperatures can soar as early as April.
Inside this guide, you’ll find some helpful tips on how to protect yourself from the heat, how to recognize heat related illness and what to do if someone shows signs of struggling to deal with high temperatures.
As far as possible, the information given in this guide is applicable across the UK.
Avoiding heat-related illness
- Although some direct sun exposure is essential for the production of vitamin D (see page 6) avoid spending long periods outside during the hottest time of the day, which is from 11am to 3pm. If you do go out, wear a broadbrimmed hat and stay in the shade as much as possible.
- If you’re travelling by car or public transport, always take a bottle of water.
- Avoid strenuous activity and limit activities such as housework and gardening to the morning or evening.
- When inside, try to stay in the coolest parts of your home. Keep curtains and blinds closed in rooms that catch the sun and remember that lights generate heat so turn them off. Keep windows shut while it’s cooler inside than outside. Fans can help sweat evaporate but they don’t cool the air itself, so don’t rely on them to keep you well in the heat.
- Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored, cotton clothing.
- Splash your face with cool (not very cold) water or place a damp cloth on the back of your neck to help you cool off.
- Drink lots of fluid. Aim for 6 to 8 glasses a day, more if it’s very hot. If you usually rely on drinks with caffeine in them, limit these and have water or decaf drinks instead. Avoid alcohol, as it can make dehydration worse.
- Eat normally – even if you aren’t hungry, you need a normal diet to replace salt loss from sweating. Try to have more salads and fruit, as these contain a lot of water.
- Speak to your GP or pharmacist about how your health or medications may be affected by extreme heat. Check the storage instructions of your medicines – most need to be stored in a cool area, and away from direct sunlight.
Looking after your skin
It’s very important to ensure your skin isn’t exposed to the sun for long periods, as this can lead to sunburn and make you more susceptible to skin cancer.
Use sunscreen of at least SPF15 (sun protection factor 15) with four or five stars, applying it generously half an hour before going out in the sun. The sunscreen’s star rating shows its ability to protect your skin from damage and premature ageing. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours and, if you’ve been in water, reapply it when you are dry.
Get to know your skin type – whether you burn easily influences the strength of sunscreen you should use and how long you can be outside in the sun without burning.
Remember anyone can develop skin cancer, so it’s important to protect your skin whatever your skin type.
When using sunscreen, apply it to your ears if they’re exposed, as well as your face, neck, arms, back of the hands, any bald patches on your head and any other uncovered part of your body.
Wear a broad brimmed hat to protect your head, face, ears and eyes.
Wear sunglasses that have a CE mark, UV400 label or a statement that they offer 100 per cent UV (ultraviolet) protection. Speak to an optician about prescription sunglasses or special shades that fit over your ordinary prescription glasses.
When the weather is hot, your skin may also feel drier than usual. Using moisturizer can help keep your skin healthy.
Sun exposure and vitamin D
Although it’s important to protect your skin, some direct skin exposure to the sun is essential for production of vitamin D, so don’t avoid the sun altogether. You need vitamin D to build and maintain strong bones. Sunshine is the major source of vitamin D for many people.
There are food sources of vitamin D – salmon, sardines and other oily fish, eggs, and fortified spreads. However it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone.
The exact amount of sun exposure needed to make enough vitamin D depends on your skin type, the season, where you are in the UK and how much skin is exposed.
In spring and summer, most people can get enough vitamin D from short periods of daily sun exposure. Try to go outside every day without sunscreen for short periods from March to October, exposing at least your forearms and hands to the sun. Don’t let your skin redden or burn. The more skin you expose, the better your chance of making enough vitamin D.
In autumn and winter, the sun isn’t strong enough to produce vitamin D and most people won’t get enough from foods, so it’s recommended that adults of all ages consider taking a vitamin D supplement of 10 µg daily at this time.
You may need a supplement all year round if you spend most of the day indoors, have darker skin, or cover your skin for cultural reasons.
Dehydration and overheating
Extreme heat and dry conditions can cause you to dehydrate and your body to overheat. It’s important to make sure you eat a balanced diet to help your body replace any salt you lose by sweating. You should also drink plenty of fluids (see page 3). And remember, it’s possible you may become dehydrated before feeling thirsty. Take particular care and speak to your GP or practice nurse if you have heart failure or take medication that affects water retention.
Watch out for certain signs, particularly muscle cramps in your arms, legs or stomach, mild confusion, weakness or sleep problems. If you have any of these, rest in a cool place and drink plenty of fluids. Seek medical advice if your symptoms persist or worsen.
Drink lots of fluid. Aim for 6 to 8 glasses a day, more if it’s very hot.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, intense thirst, heavy sweating and a fast pulse.
If you have any of these symptoms you must try to:
- find a cool place to lie down
- loosen tight clothes and remove unnecessary clothing
- drink plenty of water or fruit juice
- sponge yourself with cool water or have a cool shower.
Heatstroke is a serious condition that develops if heat exhaustion is left untreated, but can also develop suddenly and without warning.
More severe symptoms of heatstroke include confusion, disorientation, seizures and loss of consciousness.
Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition. So if you or someone else shows symptoms:
- call 999 immediately or 112 if you are in the European Union (you can call 112 from a mobile for free), or if you have a personal alarm, press the button on your pendant to call for help
- while waiting for the ambulance, follow advice given for heat exhaustion, but do not try to give fluids to anyone who is unconscious.
What else can you do?
- If you live alone, consider asking a relative or friend to visit or phone to check you’re not having difficulties during periods of extreme heat.
- If you know a neighbor who lives alone, check regularly that they are OK.
- If a heatwave is on its way or the weather is hot for several days, listen to local radio for the latest advice for your area. Check for weather forecasts and temperature warnings on TV and radio, and online at www.metoffice.gov.uk.
- Keep basic food items and essential medications at home so you don’t have to go out during a heatwave.
- Bacteria can multiply quickly in hot weather, which increases the risk of food poisoning. When you buy chilled food, take it home in a cool bag and put it in your fridge as soon as you get home. You should use a cool bag if you take food out for a picnic. Don’t leave food in a warm room or in the sun.
- If you have breathing problems or a heart condition, your symptoms might get worse when it’s very hot. Contact your GP practice in advance for advice, to make sure you’re well prepared.