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Heatwave: be prepared
In August 2003, temperatures hit 38°C (101°F) during a nine-day heatwave, the highest temperature recorded in the UK. Hot weather can be enjoyable, but when temperatures stay high day after day, people can be at risk. In the 2003 heatwave there were 2,000 to 3,000 excess deaths in England. Across Europe, there were around 30,000 excess deaths.
The safety message is to enjoy the hot weather but be sensible. Knowing how to keep cool during long periods of hot weather can help save lives.
Why is a heatwave a problem?
The main risks posed by a heatwave are:
- Dehydration (not having enough water).
- Overheating. Can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing.
- Heat exhaustion.
- Heatstroke. Can make people very ill and can sometimes be fatal.
For more information on heat exhaustion and heatstroke, see external links.
Who is at risk?
A heatwave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people are:
- Older people, especially over 75.
- Babies and young children.
- People with a serious chronic condition, especially heart or breathing problems.
- People with mobility problems, for example people who have Parkinson's disease or who have had a stroke.
- People with serious mental health problems.
- People on certain medications, including those that affect sweating and temperature control.
- People who misuse alcohol or drugs.
- People who are physically active, for example labourers or those doing sports.
How can I reduce the risk and keep healthy?
The following advice applies to everybody when it comes to keeping cool and comfortable and reducing health risks. If you know or care for someone in one of the vulnerable categories above, you can also help them to follow this advice:
- Avoid the heat. Stay out of the sun, and plan ahead so you don't go out between 11am and 3pm, the hottest part of the day.
- Avoid excessive physical activity, or do it in the cooler ends of the day.
- Keep rooms cool by using shade or reflective material external to the glass, or if not possible by closing pale-coloured curtains. Metal blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter.
- Keep the windows closed while the room is cooler than it is outside. If safe, open windows at night when the air is cooler.
- Have cool baths or showers, and splash yourself with cool water.
- Drink water or fruit juice regularly (avoid alcohol, tea or coffee).
- Wear loose, cool clothing and a hat if you go outdoors.
Listen out for information on the radio or TV. A warning system is in place to issue alerts if a heatwave is likely. If alert level two is issued, there is a 60% chance that a heatwave will occur within the next few days. Alert level three is issued when a heatwave is happening.
For more information on what to do during alert level two or three, see external links.
How do I know if someone needs help?
- If someone feels unwell, get them somewhere cool to rest. Give them plenty of fluids to drink.
- If symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, confusion, weakness, dizziness or cramps get worse or don't go away, seek medical help.