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Surviving heatwaves: Tips for staying safe in the heat
Dr Richard Dune
As we brace ourselves for the hottest weekend of the year, we must acknowledge the potential dangers that extreme heat can pose to our health. With a heat-health alert issued in parts of England as temperatures soar to a predicted 30°C (86°F), we must take proactive measures to protect ourselves and support those who may be more vulnerable.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the effects of extreme heat on the body, identify the populations at higher risk, discuss the impact of certain medications, and provide essential tips on staying safe and cool during these scorching days. Let's dive in and ensure a safe and comfortable weekend for everyone.
Key facts and statistics
- A heat-health alert has been issued in parts of England as temperatures are predicted to reach 30°C (86°F) over the weekend.
- Every year, high temperatures cause about 2,000 deaths in England.
- Heat can affect anyone, but certain individuals, such as older people and babies, are at a greater risk of serious harm.
- Understanding the effects of heat on the body and taking appropriate precautions is essential to prevent heat-related illnesses and complications.
Effects of extreme heat on the body
- Increased blood pressure - The heat strain causes blood vessels to dilate, leading to lower blood pressure and a heavier workload for the heart.
- Dehydration - High temperatures result in excessive sweating, leading to fluid and electrolyte loss and the risk of dehydration.
- Heat rash - Increased sweat production can cause itchy and irritated skin, known as heat rash.
- Sweating - Sweating is the body's natural cooling mechanism, helping to regulate body temperature.
- Swollen ankles - Dilated blood vessels near the skin can cause ankles to swell during hot weather.
How our bodies react to extreme heat
The body works harder to maintain a core temperature of around 37°C (98.6°F) through vasodilation and sweating.
- Vasodilation - Blood vessels near the skin open up to release heat to the surroundings, lowering blood pressure.
- Sweating - Sweat production increases, evaporation cools the skin, dissipating heat.
Who is more at risk?
- Older adults - Advancing age reduces the body's ability to regulate temperature effectively, making older adults more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
- Infants and young children - Their higher metabolic rate and less efficient heat regulation put them at higher risk.
- Individuals with chronic illnesses - Conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory disorders decrease the body's ability to cope with heat stress.
- Outdoor workers - Increased heat exposure and physical exertion pose risks to individuals working outdoors.
- Those with limited access to cooling measures - People without air conditioning or living in urban areas with heat island effects face higher risks.
Drugs that increase the risk
- Diuretics - These medications, commonly used for conditions like heart failure, increase water expulsion from the body, potentially exacerbating dehydration during high temperatures.
- Antihypertensives - Blood pressure-lowering medications can combine with heat-induced vasodilation and cause dangerous drops in blood pressure.
- Medications for epilepsy and parkinson's - Some drugs can inhibit sweating or interfere with the body's ability to cool itself.
- Other medications - Certain drugs, such as lithium or statins, can become more concentrated in the blood with excessive fluid loss, leading to potential complications.
How to stay safe in the heat
- Stay hydrated - Drink plenty of water and consume foods with high water content.
- Seek cool environments - Stay indoors in air-conditioned places or seek shaded areas.
- Dress appropriately - Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-coloured clothing.
- Protect against the sun - Apply sunscreen, and wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Limit outdoor activities - Avoid outdoor activities during peak heat hours, and take frequent breaks in cool areas.
- Check on vulnerable individuals - Support older adults, infants, and those with chronic illnesses, ensuring they have access to cool environments and hydration.
- Be mindful of medications - Continue taking prescribed medications but be aware of their potential effects in high temperatures.
- Create a cool sleeping environment - Use thin sheets, cool your socks in the fridge, and maintain a regular bedtime routine.
First aid for heat exhaustion
- Move the person to a cool place and have them lie down.
- Elevate their feet slightly.
- Encourage them to drink plenty of water or rehydration drinks.
- Cool their skin with cool water and use a fan or cold packs.
- Call emergency services if they don't recover within 30 minutes or show signs of heat stroke.
Extreme heat risks our health, but by understanding the effects, recognising vulnerable populations, and taking appropriate precautions, we can stay safe during heat waves. Stay hydrated, seek cool environments, protect yourself from the sun, and be mindful of those needing extra support. Let's make this hot weekend enjoyable and safe for everyone!
Key points to remember
- Extreme heat can affect anyone, but specific individuals, such as older adults and babies, are more vulnerable to its effects.
- Increased blood pressure, dehydration, heat rash, sweating, and swollen ankles are common effects of extreme heat on the body.
- Older adults, infants, individuals with chronic illnesses, outdoor workers, and those with limited access to cooling measures are at higher risk.
- Some medications can increase the risk, so being mindful and taking precautions is essential.
- Stay hydrated, seek cool environments, dress appropriately, and limit outdoor activities during peak heat hours.
- Support vulnerable individuals and be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Ensure a cool sleeping environment for a good night's sleep during hot weather.
Stay cool, stay safe, and enjoy the weekend while caring for yourself and others!
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