Many of us look forward to warmer weather in the summer months, but when it’s hot for longer periods – or we face more extreme temperatures, it can pose a risk to our health.
Read our top tips on this page for keeping healthy and well this summer including heatwave advice.
The main risks posed by a heatwave are:
- not having enough water (dehydration)
- overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing
- heat exhaustion and heatstroke
Who's most at risk?
A heatwave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people are:
- older people, especially those over 75
- babies and young children
- people with a serious long-term 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 medicines, including those that affect sweating and temperature control
- people who are physically active – for example, labourers or those doing sports
Tips for coping in hot weather
Check on others
- Check on older people or sick neighbours, family or friends every day during hot weather.
- Stay hydrated – drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol.
- If you need to travel, ensure you take water with you.
- Avoid extreme physical exertion. If you can’t avoid strenuous outdoor activity, such as sport, DIY or gardening, keep it for cooler parts of the day – for example, in the early morning or evening.
Keeping the home cool
- Keep your environment cool: keeping your living space cool is especially important for those who need to stay at home this summer.
- Shade or cover windows exposed to direct sunlight and keep windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day. External shutters or shades, if you have them, are very effective, while internal blinds or curtains are less effective. Care should be taken with metal blinds and dark curtains, as these can absorb heat.
- If possible and safe, open windows at night if it feels cooler outside.
- Turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment – they generate heat.
- During the hottest periods find the coolest part of your home or garden/outside or local green space to sit in. If going outdoors, use cool spaces considerately.
- Ensure that babies, children, or older people are not left alone in parked cars, which can quickly overheat.
Look out for the signs of heat-related harm
- If you feel dizzy, weak or have intense thirst and a headache, move to a cool place as soon as possible. Drink some water or diluted fruit juice to rehydrate. Avoid excess alcohol.
- If you have painful muscular spasms (particularly in the legs, arms, or abdomen), rest immediately in a cool place and drink electrolyte drinks. Most people should start to recover within 30 mins and if not, you should seek medical help. Call 111 if you feel unusual symptoms, or if symptoms persist.
- Call 999 if a person develops any signs of heatstroke as this is a medical emergency. Further information on heatstroke and heat-related illness are available here.
Enjoy the water safely
- During warm weather going for a swim can provide much welcomed relief.
- Take care and follow local safety advice if you are going into the water to cool down.
- Try to keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm, when UV radiation is strongest.
- If you have to go out in the heat, wear UV sunglasses, preferably wraparound, to reduce UV exposure to the eyes. Walk in the shade, apply sunscreen of at least SPF15 with UVA protection and wear a hat. Wear light, loose-fitting cotton clothes. This should reduce the risk of sunburn.
Dehydration is one of the main health risks during hot weather. Dehydration means your body loses more fluids than you take in. If it’s not treated, it can get worse and become a serious problem.
Symptoms of dehydration in adults and children include:
- feeling thirsty
- dark yellow and strong-smelling pee
- feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- feeling tired
- a dry mouth, lips and eyes
- peeing little, and fewer than 4 times a day
To reduce the risk of dehydration:
- Drink fluids when you feel any dehydration symptoms.
- If you find it hard to drink because you feel sick or have been sick, start with small sips and then gradually drink more.
- You can use a spoon to make it easier for your child to swallow the fluids.
- You should drink enough during the day so your pee is a pale clear colour.
- Drink when there's a higher risk of dehydrating - for example, if you're vomiting, sweating or you have diarrhoea
If you're being sick or have diarrhoea and are losing too much fluid, you need to put back the sugar, salts and minerals that your body has lost. Your pharmacist can recommend oral rehydration sachets. These are powders that you mix with water and then drink. Ask your pharmacist which ones are right for you or your child.
Staying protected from the sun
Spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest. In the UK, this is between 11am and 3pm from March to October.
Make sure you:
- spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
- never burn
- cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses
- take extra care with children
- use at least factor 30 sunscreen
Bugs and bites
Most insect bites and stings are not serious and will get better within a few hours or days, but occasionally they can become infected, cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Bugs that bite or sting include wasps, hornets, bees, horseflies, ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, spiders and midges.
To treat an insect bite or sting:
- remove the sting or tick if it's still in the skin
- wash the affected area with soap and water
- apply a cold compress (such as a flannel or cloth cooled with cold water) or an ice pack to any swelling for at least 10 minutes
- raise or elevate the affected area if possible, as this can help reduce swelling
- avoid scratching the area, to reduce the risk of infection
- avoid traditional home remedies, such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, as they're unlikely to help
Ask your pharmacist about medicines that can help, such as painkillers, creams for itching and antihistamines. If your symptoms do not start to improve within a few days or are getting worse, call NHS 111 who can advise what to do and refer you to the most relevant service.