As parts of England are predicted to hit 40C this week, and fears even fit and healthy people could be at risk of illness and death, we take a look at how to keep cool and stay well.
Keep the inside cool
According to the Heatwave Plan for England, one of the key public health messages is to keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm. For those seeking shade indoors, the plan has tips for keeping the environment cool, including turning off non‑essential lights and electrical equipment as they can produce heat.
The plan also suggests closing curtains that are in the sun in the morning or afternoon, although it notes dark curtains and metal blinds can absorb heat. The document suggests either replacing them or putting reflective material between them and the window space.
“Keep windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day, and open windows at night when the temperature has dropped,” the plan adds.
If the temperature is below 35C, an electric fan might also help – but beware, fans can dehydrate you.
Take precautions if you have to go out
Not everyone will be able to hunker down indoors. But precautions are necessary if venturing outside. Wear light, loose-fitting clothes, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat, take water with you, and try to stick to the shade.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) points out, it is also important to avoid overdoing physical activity in the heat.
“If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4am and 7am,” it advises.
And don’t forget, if you are heading out in a car, do not leave children or animals inside, even if you have left a window open.
Drink plenty – but avoid booze
Keeping hydrated in the heat is important, so drink plenty of fluids. But it is best to stick to water or other soft drinks. As the alcohol education charity Drinkaware says, not only is alcohol a diuretic, meaning you need to urinate more, it can also make you sweat more.
“The combination of sweating more in the heat, and going to the toilet more, means you lose more fluid than you take in and become dehydrated unless you replace that lost fluid by drinking water,” the charity states.
Keep an eye on others
Some people, such as babies, children or elderly people, may need help as temperatures soar.
“We are asking people if they have an elderly neighbour, particularly if they live alone, it would be a neighbourly thing to check up on them and make sure they are looking after themselves and have access to water,” Kit Malthouse, the Cabinet Office minister, has said.
The WHO has recommended keeping medications below 25C or in the refrigerator, although it says it is worth checking the storage information.
The Heatwave Plan for England also urges people to be alert “and call a doctor or social services if someone is unwell or further help is needed”.
While heat exhaustion is not normally serious, heatstroke can be fatal so be sure to know the signs: headache, feeling sick, dizziness and confusion, excessive sweating, loss of appetite, arm, leg and stomach cramps, a fast pulse and feeling very thirsty.
Use water wisely
The WHO suggests hanging wet towels inside rooms – while this may increase the humidity, it helps cools the air as the water evaporates. A cool shower or bath, cold packs, footbaths or just a sprinkling of water, can also help.
But beware the temptation of jumping into open water, be it lakes, streams, reservoirs or coastal water. As experts have noted, they can contain hidden hazards such as weeds or strong currents, and there may be a risk of injury or dangers from boats.
In addition the water may be far colder than expected, leading to cold water shock, an incapacitating condition that can lead to heart attacks and drowning.
“This can all happen very quickly: it only takes half a pint of sea water to enter the lungs for a fully grown man to start drowning,” the RNLI notes.
July 18, 2022 at 12:23PM Nicola Davis Science correspondent