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Most of us welcome hot weather, but when it’s too hot for too long there are health risks. If a heatwave hits this summer, make sure the hot weather doesn’t harm you or anyone you know.

 

 

The very young, the elderly and the seriously ill are the groups who are particularly at risk of health problems when the weather is very hot. In particular, very hot weather can make heart and breathing problems worse.

“There is considerable evidence that heatwaves are dangerous and can kill,” says Graham Bickler of Public Health England. In August 2003, temperatures hit 38ºC (101ºF) during a nine-day heatwave, the highest recorded in the UK.

“In the 2003 heatwave, there were 2,000 to 3,000 excess deaths [more than usual] in England. Across Europe, there were around 30,000 excess deaths.”

Public Health England’s heatwave plan 2014 (PDF, 1.19Mb) has advice on how to cope during a heatwave. Knowing how to keep cool during long periods of hot weather can help save lives.

“Most of the information is common sense,” says Bickler. “It’s not rocket science, but it can have a dramatic effect.”

When heat becomes a problem

An average temperature of 30°C by day and 15°C overnight would trigger a health alert (this figure varies slightly around the UK). These temperatures can have a significant effect on people’s health if they last for at least two days and the night in between.

The Meteorological Office has a warning system that issues alerts if a heatwave is likely. Level one is the minimum alert and is in place from June 1 until September 15 (which is the period that heatwave alerts are likely to be raised).

  • minimum alert – people should be aware of what to do if the alert level is raised
  • level two alert – there is a high chance that a heatwave will occur within the next few days
  • level three alert – when a heatwave is happening
  • level four alert – when a heatwave is severe

Why is a heatwave a problem?

The main risks posed by a heatwave are: 

  • dehydration (not having enough water)
  • overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing
  • heat exhaustion
  • heatstroke

Who is most at risk?

A heatwave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people in extreme heat are:

  • older people, especially those over 75
  • babies and young children
  • people with a serious chronic condition, especially heart or breathing problems
  • people with mobility problems – for example, people with 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

Tips for coping in hot weather

The following advice applies to everybody when it comes to keeping cool and comfortable and reducing health risks:

  • Shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter outside. If it’s safe, open them for ventilation when it is cooler.
  • Avoid the heat: stay out of the sun and don’t go out between 11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day) if you’re vulnerable to the effects of heat.
  • Keep rooms cool by using shades or reflective material outside the windows. If this isn’t possible, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed (metallic blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter).
  • Have cool baths or showers, and splash yourself with cool water.
  • Drink cold drinks regularly, such as water and fruit juice. Avoid tea, coffee and alcohol.
  • Stay tuned to the weather forecast on the radio or TV, or on the Met Office website.
  • Plan ahead to make sure you have enough supplies, such as food, water and any medications you need.
  • Identify the coolest room in the house so you know where to go to keep cool.
  • Wear loose, cool clothing, and a hat if you go outdoors.
  • Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be less able to look after themselves.

Find out more about what to do during a heatwave alert level twolevel three or level four.

If you’re worried about yourself or a vulnerable neighbour, friend or relative, you can contact the local environmental health office at your local authority.

Environmental health workers can visit a home to inspect it for hazards to health, including excess heat. Find your local authority on the GOV.UK website.  

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.

Seek medical help if symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, confusion, weakness, dizziness or cramps get worse or don’t go away.

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SUNMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

Staying cool during a long, hot summer can be pricey. But before you turn on the A/C, read these tips on ways to keep costs down during a heatwave.

Beating the heat doesn’t have to mean cranking the A/C — air conditioning is really hard on the budget, not to mention the power grid. This summer, consider these 12 frugal tips to keep you cool in the hot weather — they’ll not only save you money, but will make your home greener too.

1. Get grilling
When it’s hot outside, using your oven or stovetop can make your house even hotter. Stop sweating in the kitchen and make use of your barbecue whenever you can. You can use the grill for everything — even pizza. 
2. Adjust your thermostat
Try not to leave the AC running when you’re not home. There are other ways to keep your house from heating up too much (see below). Also, consider saving the air conditioning for the very hottest days of summer — and use it sparingly, such as turning it off when you’re sleeping.

3. Change your filters
If you have central air, make sure you give your system a once-over and change the filters so that it runs more efficiently and pumps clean air through your home.

4. Keep the curtains closed
Keep your windows curtained or shuttered during the heat of the day — that will also help the air stay cooler when the sunshine is at its peak.

5. Use fans
Ceiling fans and portable fans will keep the air circulating through your home so that it stays cooler and fresher.

6. Cover the vents
If you are running AC, make sure you cover the vents in rooms you don’t use to push the cold air where you want it — especially at night. Covering the downstairs vents can make your upper floors cooler when you’re sleeping.

7. Camp out
Hot nights can be the hardest part of summer, so why not get out of your upstairs bedroom and sleep somewhere cooler? Set up camp in the backyard or in the basement — if you have young kids, you can also make it fun by pitching a tent and making it like a camping trip.

8. Use cold showers
Bring down your body temperature before bed by taking a cold shower or bath. It will help make you more comfortable and help you get to sleep even on the hottest nights. To get super cool before bed, stand in front of a fan to dry off instead of using a towel — that gives your body an extra chill that will keep you cooler for longer.

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9. Peg out
Your dryer makes your home even hotter, so use your clothesline instead. Pegging out can also help cut your electricity bill. And you get an added bonus — clothes dried outside smell so much better.

10. Get a pool (kiddie that is)
Every kid on my block had a Mr. Turtle Pool when I was growing up — kid-sized pools are a great way for your little ones to keep cool. Adults and pets can also cool their heels in the cold water when they need it. If your kids are too small to play safely in a kiddie pool, then turn on the sprinkler to cool them down.

11. Have lots of cold ones…
Keep yourself well hydrated with cold, icy beverages, preferably non-alcoholic — while a cold beer or two goes down smoothly on a hot day, the alcohol can leave you dehydrated and feeling even worse.

12. Make homemade popsicles with the kids
Packaged popsicles and ice creams are expensive — enlist your kids in helping you make popsicles of their own. You can also make your own cones and drumsticks — they taste better than the ones you buy at the store.

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