Looking after yourself and others during hot weather

Most of us welcome hot weather, but when it’s too hot for too long there are health risks, especially for the very young, the elderly and the seriously ill. If hot weather hits this summer, take steps to make sure it doesn't harm you or anyone you know.

Who is most at risk?

Anyone can experience heat-related symptoms but some people may have a higher risk of serious harm. These include:

  • Older people, especially those over 75
  • Babies and young children
  • People with dementia and serious mental health problems
  • People on certain medication
  • People with a serious chronic condition, particularly breathing or heart problems
  • People who already have a high temperature from an infection
  • People who misuse alcohol or drugs
  • People with mobility problems
  • People who are physically active, for example labourers or those doing sports.

Staying safe in the heat

Mostly, it’s a matter of common sense. Listen to your local weather forecast so you know if a heatwave is on the way. Planning ahead can reduce your own risk of getting ill and help protect anyone you know who could be vulnerable.

Here are some top tips for keeping cool:

Stay out of the heat:

  • Keep out of the sun between 11.00am and 3.00pm
  • If you have to go out in the heat, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a hat and light scarf
  • Avoid extreme physical exertion
  • Wear light, loose-fitting cotton clothes.

Cool yourself down:

  • Have plenty of cold drinks, and avoid excess alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks
  • Eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high water content
  • Take a cool shower, bath or body wash
  • Sprinkle water over the skin or clothing, or keep a damp cloth on the back of your neck.

Keep your environment cool:

  • Keeping your living space cool is especially important for infants, the elderly or those with chronic health conditions or who can’t look after themselves
  • Place a thermometer in your main living room and bedroom to keep a check on the temperature
  • Keep windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day, and open windows at night when the temperature has dropped
  • Close curtains that receive morning or afternoon sun. However, care should be taken with metal blinds and dark curtains, as these can absorb heat – consider replacing or putting reflective material in-between them and the window space
  • Turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment – they generate heat
  • Keep indoor plants and bowls of water in the house as evaporation helps cool the air
  • If possible, move into a cooler room, especially for sleeping
  • Electric fans may provide some relief if temperatures are above 35°C.

Look out for others

Check on people you know who may be at risk. Keep an eye on isolated, elderly, ill or very young people and make sure they are able to keep cool. Please think about vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours. You may not be affected by the hot weather, but they may be.

Will I be told if we enter a heatwave?

There is a national reporting system which alerts everyone to the risk and seriousness of a heatwave. Announcements will be broadcast alongside national and regional weather forecasts if a heatwave is predicted, and will update you if we enter into one.

There are also threshold temperatures for each region around the country which can trigger a health alert. If we reach a temperature of 31C by day or of 16C overnight in West Sussex this would trigger a health alert locally. Visit the West Sussex County Council website to sign up to email and text alerts and subscribe to the ‘Extreme weather alerts’.  If you would like to follow the heat-health watch forecasts for yourself, visit the Met Office website.

Level one is the minimum alert and is in place from 1 June until 15 September, from which the level will be increased as the weather heats up.

heatAlert Sussex is a service that, once you have signed up, will provide free “heatwave warnings”, particularly for those with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, vulnerable residents, parents of young children, carers and healthcare professionals across Sussex.      

During periods of hot weather the air quality is affected causing difficulties for those with respiratory conditions. You can also sign up to Sussex airAlert to receive free messages via your mobile phone, voicemails to your home telephone, email or mobile app, informing you that poor air quality is predicted in your area of Sussex.

Further information

Visit the NHS website's summer health information pages where you’ll find lots more information about what to do in a heatwave, along with details on other topics such as:

  • Sun safety
  • Barbecuing safely
  • Preventing hay fever

Find out about the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke and the symptoms of dehydration on the NHS website.

For information about this year's Heatwave plan for England, including downloadable versions of the 'Beat the Heat' leaflet, see the UK Government's website.

Follow West Sussex Public Health on Twitter: @WSPublicHealth

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