In the UK a ‘heatwave’ is generally when the temperature exceeds 30°C during the day and 15°C at night on consecutive days. These temperatures could have a significant effect on people’s health.
The Met Office operates a ‘Heat Health Watch’ service between 1 June and 15 September each year and issues heatwave warnings and guidance. Warnings comprise levels 1 (normal conditions) to 4 (national emergency).
Who is at risk?
Heat can affect anyone, but some people run a greater risk of serious harm. These include
• older people
• babies and young children
• people with a serious chronic condition, particularly breathing or heart problems.
During a heatwave
Some simple steps and common sense can make all the difference during a heatwave.
- Tune in to your local weather forecast. Plan ahead to reduce the risk of ill health from the heat.
- Keep out of the heat – avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11am – 3pm). If you must go out, stay in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a hat.
- Avoid physical exertion.
- Wear light, loose-fitting clothes, preferably cotton.
- If you have a health problem, keep medicines below 25°C or in the refrigerator.
- Contact your doctor, a pharmacist or the NHS if you are worried about your health during a heatwave, especially if you are taking medication, feel unwell or have any unusual symptoms.
- Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially young children or animals.
- Look out for others, especially vulnerable groups such as the elderly, young children, babies and those with serious illnesses.
- Eat well-balanced, light and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by your doctor. Drink plenty of water regularly, even if you don’t feel particularly thirsty.
- Try to avoid alcohol, tea and coffee. They make dehydration worse.
- Avoid strenuous work and try not to work alone when in extreme heat. Take frequent breaks.
Preparing for a heatwave
Before the summer, think about preparations you may wish to make such as installing air conditioners.
Make sure you have plenty of bottled water in case of drought or local problems with supply.
Stock up on high-protection sun creams and minimise the need for hard work outdoors.
Look up heat-induced illnesses such as sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat stroke in your first aid manual and be prepared to give first aid.