Keeping cool in a heatwave

Keeping Cool in a Heatwave

We’ve had some lovely weather this week, as a heatwave swept across the country! Down here in London it’s been especially warm, with temperatures reaching as high as 29°C – far higher than the typical average for this time of year, 22°C. According to the Evening Standard, some roads have become so hot that they have started to melt and stick to tyres! Meanwhile BBC news suggests that the warm weather is set to continue for at least another two weeks, if you can believe such a thing! Although, we still have a way to beat the record of the 1976 heatwave, which saw temperatures of 32C and over for 15 consecutive days.

Whilst it’s always nice to have a hot summer, we must not forget how damaging the heat can be to our health, with extreme heat posing a real risk to older people in particular. As we age, our bodies become less efficient at regulating our temperature, especially in terms of generating sweat to cool the body. Furthermore the warm weather can also exacerbate pre-existing conditions, such as heart, respiratory, and mobility issues.

Luckily, Age UK and the Met Office have collated a whole host of tips for keeping cool in a heatwave, so let’s take a look at their advice:

First of all, avoid the heat: stay out of the sun and don’t go out between 11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day) if you’re vulnerable to the effects of heat. If you do head outside, make sure to wear sunscreen of at least sun protection factor (SPF) 15 with four or five stars UVA and UVB protection and be sure to top up every two hours. Try to wear loose, cool clothing during the day – a set of UV-blocking sunglasses and a sunhat are also very important.

Staying cool in a heatwave
Make sure to apply a good-quality sunscreen when heading outside!

Try to keep rooms cool by using shades or reflective material outside the windows. If this isn’t possible, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed (metallic blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter). Shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter outside, as windows can be opened for ventilation when it’s cooler. Identify the coolest room in the house so you know where to go to keep cool. If need be, have cool baths or showers, and splash yourself with cool water.

Drink cold drinks regularly, such as water and diluted fruit juice. Avoid excess alcohol, caffeine (tea, coffee and cola) or drinks high in sugar. You can also plan ahead to make sure you have enough supplies, such as food, water and any medications you need. Listen to alerts on the radio, TV and social media about changes in the weather and keep an eye out for any tips on keeping cool.

Much of this advice will most likely feel like common sense information but it’s still important to have a reminder every now and then! Why? Because the heatwave puts us all at much higher risk of heat exhaustion and even heatstroke, if the former is left untreated. It’s therefore really important to spot the symptoms of heat exhaustion as early as possible, these include: headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, intense thirst, heavy sweating and a fast pulse. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should react as quickly as possible by finding a cool place and drinking plenty of water. You could also take a cool shower if need be.

staying cool in a heatwave
Make sure to drink plenty of cool water throughout the day!

In the event that heat exhaustion develops into heatstroke, then Age UK offers the following advice:

Heatstroke can develop if heat exhaustion is left untreated – it can also develop suddenly and without warning.

The symptoms of heatstroke include confusion, disorientation, seizures and loss of consciousness.

Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition. If you or someone else shows symptoms:

  • call 999 immediately, or 112 if you are in the European Union (you can call 112 from a mobile for free)
  • if you have a community alarm, press the button on your pendant to call for help
  • while waiting for the ambulance, follow the advice given for heat exhaustion but do not try to give fluids to anyone who is unconscious.

So there we have it – plenty of ways to keep cool in a heatwave and many reasons why it’s so important to do so! One last thing – don’t let these warnings stop you from going out into the sun altogether, exposure to the sun is vital for effective production of Vitamin D and it’s always good to enjoy a nice sunny day!

George Harvey

George is Age UK London's Communications and Campaigns Officer.

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