Specific risks

8. Heatwaves

Extreme heat is dangerous.  During hot weather, when temperatures remain high for more than a few days, it can prove fatal, particularly among certain at-risk groups. In one hot spell in London in August 2003, deaths among people aged over 75 rose by 60 per cent. 

Keep cool:

  • Stay out of the heat, especially between 11am and 3pm
  • Walk in the shade, use sunscreen, and wear a hat
  • Avoid extreme physical exertion
  • Wear light, loose fitting clothes

Cool yourself down:

  • Have plenty of cold drinks. Avoid caffeine and alcohol which dehydrate you
  • Eat cold foods eg salads and fruit with high water content
  • Take cool showers, cool baths or cool body washes
  • Sprinkle water over the skin or clothing, or keep a damp cloth on the back of your neck

Around you:

  • Keep a thermometer in your front room to monitor the temperature
  • Keep windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day. Open windows at night when the temperature has dropped
  • Have your loft and cavity walls insulated – this helps keep the heat in when it is cold and out when it is hot
  • 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 to a cooler room, especially for sleeping
  • Keep pets indoors where it is cool – they can be affected by the sun too. Make sure they have plenty of cool, clean drinking water

Look out for others:

  • Keep an eye on isolated, elderly, ill or very young people and make sure they are able to keep cool
  • Ensure that babies, children or elderly people are not left alone in stationary cars
  • Check on elderly or sick neighbours, family or friends every day 
  • Be alert and call a doctor or social services if someone is unwell or if further help is needed

The Met Office will provide warning of anticipated periods of hot weather over a certain temperature and duration.  They warn the NHS who alert the media.

NHS heatwave plan

Some factors that increase an individual's risk during a heatwave:

  • Older age - especially women over 75 years old, or those living on their own who are socially isolated or in a care home
  • Chronic and severe illness - including heart conditions, diabetes, respiratory or renal insufficiency, Parkinson's disease or severe mental illness.  Medications that potentially affect renal function, the body's ability to sweat, thermoregulation or electrolyte balance can make this group more vulnerable to the effects of heat
  • Inability to adapt behaviour to keep cool - for example, having Alzheimer's, a disability, being bed bound, too much alcohol, babies and the very young
  • Environmental factors and overexposure

In a moderate heatwave, it is mainly the high-risk groups who are affected.  In an extreme heatwave normally fit and health people can also be affected.

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Last updated: 12 March 2019

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