While many people enjoy being outside in the warmer dry weather we have been having recently, for some of the most vulnerable it can be more dangerous.
Even relatively moderate temperatures (of 25ºC+) can cause mild to severe health impacts, especially when temperatures remain high for prolonged periods.
The most vulnerable are more at risk
Everybody can be affected by high temperatures, but many of the groups identified at higher risk for COVID-19 are also at higher risk from the heat. These include:
- Older people - especially 75+, living alone, socially isolated, or living in a care home
- People with chronic and severe illness - including heart, lung conditions, diabetes, renal diseases, Parkinson’s disease or severe mental illness
- People who cannot adapt their behaviour to keep cool - eg babies, the very young, certain disability conditions, being bed bound, consuming too much alcohol, those with Alzheimer’s disease
- People with overexposure to the heat - eg living in a top floor flat, being homeless, activities or jobs that are in hot places or outdoors and include high levels of physical exertion.
Heat-related health effects can include; heat cramps, heat rash, heat oedema, heat syncope, heat exhaustion, heatstroke.
Many people are unaware of the potential risks to health from indoor high temperatures and are therefore less likely to take measures to look after their own and their family’s’ wellbeing.
Around 20% of homes in England experience overheating, even during relatively cool summers. This can sometimes be due to measures put in place to prevent heat loss during the cold winter months.
The COVID-19 advice for people to stay at home means there will be an increased risk of illness from overheated homes this year, with the greatest impact on the most vulnerable.
The city’s care homes, shared housing and early years providers routinely address this issue every year but the general public may not consider these issues in their own home.
Advice for protecting yourself and others from the heat
Stay out of the direct heat:
- Keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm.
- If you go out in the heat, walk in the shade.
- Apply sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 and reapply frequently, even if sitting inside behind glass.
- Avoid extreme physical exertion.
- Wear a hat and light, loose-fitting cotton clothes.
Cool yourself down:
- Drink plenty of cold drinks – avoid alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks.
- Eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with 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 living space cool:
- Close windows that are exposed to the sun during daytime and open them at night
- Close the curtains on windows that are exposed to the sun
- Turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment – they generate heat
- Keep indoor plants and bowls of water around the house, evaporation cools the air
- If possible, move into a cooler room, especially for sleeping
- Electric fans help if temperatures are below 35ºC
- Consider using a thermometer in your main living room and bedrooms
- Consider putting up external shading outside windows
- Use pale, reflective external paints
- Have your loft and cavity walls insulated – keeps the heat in when cold & out when hot
- Grow trees/leafy plants near windows to act as natural air-conditioners
Look out for those with health problems:
- Keep medicines below 25ºC or in a refrigerator as per storage instructions
- Call a doctor if someone feels unwell in the heat
- Do not leave babies, children or elderly people alone in stationary cars
- Check (by phone) that isolated, elderly or sick neighbours, family or friends are able to keep cool
- Seek medical advice for those with a chronic medical condition or taking multiple medications - certain medicines can have side effects in the heat/sun eg skin burns easily
If you or others feel unwell:
- If you feel dizzy, weak, anxious, have intense thirst and headache - move to a cool place, get help and take your temperature.
- Drink water or fruit juice to rehydrate.
- Rest immediately in a cool place if you have painful muscular spasms (particularly in the legs, arms or abdomen, in many cases after sustained exercise during very hot weather), and drink oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes - seek medical attention if heat cramps last more than one hour
- Ring NHS 111 if you feel unusual symptoms or if symptoms persist
For more information, follow the NHS advice on how to stay safe in the sun.