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Keeping cool in a heatwave

In one hot spell in August 2003 in England, deaths in those aged 75 and over rose by 60%, with approximately 2000 total extra deaths than would normally be expected.

There is lots of information on the NHS Choices website about staying safe in extreme weather.  

NHS Choices website - heatwave information


Danger symptoms to watch out for in hot weather include: feeling faint and dizzy, short of breath, vomiting or increasing confusion.

Many prescription medicines can reduce your tolerance of heat. You should keep taking your medicines, but take extra care to keep cool.

Take immediate action if danger symptoms of heatstroke are present: 

  • Cool down as quickly as possible (see the advice below).
  • Do not take aspirin or paracetamol - this can make you worse. Please note: do carry on taking all other prescribed medicines.
  • Seek advice from NHS Direct, a doctor, or ring 999 if the person has collapsed.

If you, or somebody you know, find your home to be uncomfortably hot and you have concerns about it affecting yours or someone else's health, seek medical advice about the person and from the environmental health department within your local authority about the home.


Who is at risk?

The heat can affect anyone, but some people run a greater risk of serious harm. These include: 

  • Older people and those over 75.
  • Babies and young children.
  • People with serious mental health problems.
  • People on certain medication.
  • People with a serious chronic condition, particularly breathing or heart problems.
  • People who misuse alcohol or take illicit drugs.
  • People with mobility problems.
  • People who are physically active


What should you do to stay cool?

Mostly, it's a matter of common sense. Listen to your local weather forecast so you know if a heatwave is on the way. Plan ahead to reduce the risk of ill health from the heat.  It is best for your health to avoid getting too hot in the first place.  Below are some tips for keeping cool:

Keep out of the heat

  • If a heatwave is forecast, try and plan your day in a way that allows you to stay out of the heat.   If you can, avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11am - 3pm).
  • If you can't avoid strenuous outdoor activity, like sport, DIY or gardening, keep it for cooler parts of the day, like early morning or evening.
  • If you must go out, stay in the shade. Wear a hat and light, loosefitting clothes, preferably cotton. If you will be outside for some time, take plenty of water with you.


Stay cool

  • A loose, cotton, damp cloth or scarf on the back of the neck, or spraying or splashing your face and the back of your neck with cold water several times a day can help keep you cool.
  • Stay inside, in the coolest rooms in your home, as much as possible.
  • Reduce heat from sunlight coming through the windows. External shading, e.g. shutters, is best. Metal blinds and dark curtains may absorb heat and make the room warmer - it is best to use pale curtains or reflective material.
  • Keep windows closed while the room is cooler than it is outside. Open them when the temperature inside rises, and at night for ventilation.  If you are worried about security, open windows on the first floor and above.
  • Indoor and outdoor plants will help keep your home cool due to evaporation and the shading from trees/bushes.
  • Take cool showers or baths.
  • Drink regularly - even if you do not feel thirsty, water or fruit juice are best.
  • Have plenty of cold drinks, avoid excess alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks
  • Eat light meals with a higher proportion of vegetables. Try to eat more cold food, particularly salads and fruit, which contain water.


Seek advice if you have any concerns

Contact your doctor, a pharmacist or the NHS 111 Service (call 111 on your phone) if you are worried about your health during a heatwave, especially if you are taking medication, if you feel unwell or have any unusual symptoms.

Watch for cramp in your arms, legs or stomach, feelings of mild confusion, weakness or problems sleeping. If you have these symptoms, rest for several hours, keep cool and drink water or fruit juice. Seek medical advice if they get worse or don't go away.

Remember, heatstroke can kill. It can develop very suddenly, and rapidly lead to unconsciousness. If you suspect someone has heatstroke, call 999 immediately.


Helping others

If anyone you know is likely to be at risk during a heatwave help them get the advice and support they need. Older people living on their own should be visited daily to check they're OK.


If you have to call an ambulance

If you have to call an ambulance because someone is affected by the heat:

  • If possible, move the person somewhere cooler.
  • Increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan.
  • Cool them down as quickly as possibly by loosening their clothes, sprinkling them with cold water or wrapping them in a damp sheet.
  • If they are conscious, give them water/fruit juice to drink.
  • Do not give them aspirin or paracetamol.


Further information

Visit the NHS Summer Health website

Visit Age UK's 'staying cool in a heatwave page'

Click here to visit the Met Office Heat Health Watch page and view any high temperature health warnings 

You can get advice on protecting your skin during hot weather from the SunSmart website

You can also download our Keeping Cool poster and our Advice on Helping Others to Keep Cool poster   to display in your office, establishment, community centre etc.

Contact your doctor, a pharmacist or the NHS 111 Service (call 111 on your phone) if you are worried about your health during a heatwave

Keeping cool in a heatwave