Summer sun is usually welcome, but it can bring health risks. Older people may be more vulnerable in the hot weather. There are practical steps you can take to protect yourself and stay cool.
How to stay well in the heat
You’re less likely to notice if you feel hot or thirsty and it can take longer to cool down as you get older. It’s important to take care and watch out for the symptoms of heat-related illness, especially in a heatwave.
Heatwaves can happen suddenly and it can sometimes become dangerously hot. It’s a good idea to be prepared. The Met Office has a warning system if a heatwave is likely.
Follow our tips to help you stay safe in hot weather.
Are you drinking enough fluids?
You can become dehydrated before you feel thirsty. Make sure you drink enough to replace fluids lost through sweating.
Aim to drink about eight glasses of water or diluted fruit juice, spread throughout the day and evening – more if it’s very hot.
It’s also a good idea to:
- limit the amount of caffeine you drink
- avoid alcohol and drinks that are high in sugar
- eat cold foods, such as salads and fruit, as they contain water.
Symptoms of dehydration
Keep an eye out for the symptoms of dehydration, which include:
- dry mouth, lips and eyes
- urinating less and darker urine than usual.
If untreated, dehydration can lead to urine infections, constipation, muscle damage and kidney stones.
Some people might be more likely to become dehydrated if they have diabetes, dementia, difficulties swallowing or they’re on certain medications. If you’re caring for someone, keep a note of how much they drink.
If you’re on medication
Some medications can make the effect of the heat worse. For example, they can affect sweating and temperature control or make your skin more sensitive to the sun. If you’re concerned, ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.
If you're on medication that affects the amount of fluid you can drink, get advice from your GP on what to do in hot weather.
Check the storage instructions for your medication on the packaging. You may need to store some medication below 25C or in the fridge.
Protect your skin and eyes
It’s important to protect your skin and your eyes if you're going out in the sun. You should wear:
- long sleeves and trousers or a long skirt in fabrics with a close weave
- a hat that protects your face and your neck
- sunglasses with a CE mark, or statement that they provide 100% UV protection – a wraparound design is best
- high-factor sunscreen – SPF 30 or higher, and four or five-star UVA protection, depending on your skin type.
Apply sunscreen half an hour before you go out and then just again before you go out in the sun. Reapply it regularly and after you’ve been in water. You can read more about how to protect your skin in the sun on the Cancer Research UK website.
Slow down and plan ahead
The hottest time of day is between 11am and 3pm so avoid doing too much then. Save housework or gardening for early morning or late evening.
- Wear loose-fitting, light cotton clothes.
- If you go out, take a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and water with you.
- Stay in the shade as much as possible.
- A cool bath or shower or just a damp cloth on the back of your neck can help to cool you down.
- Be prepared - check the Met Office weather forecast and download the free weather app.
- Air pollution can be worse during hot weather – keep updated and get health advice from UK-AIR.
Keep your home cool
If it’s cooler indoors than outside, you can keep the heat out by closing the windows and curtains in rooms that face the sun. But bear in mind that metallic blinds and thick dark curtains can make the room hotter.
Open your windows at night, if it’s safe to do so, and when temperatures outside are lower, to cool your home down. Try to get the air flowing through.
If you can:
- buy a good quality electric fan
- keep a thermometer in a room you use a lot
- turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment as they can generate heat.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion
The symptoms of heat exhaustion can include:
- loss of appetite and feeling sick
- a headache
- dizziness and confusion
- sweating heavily and pale, clammy skin
- intense thirst
- cramps in your arms, legs and stomach
- fast breathing or pulse
- a temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above.
What to do
If you have these symptoms:
- go quickly to a cool place
- lie down
- drink plenty of water
- remove any extra layers of clothing.
You can also try to cool your skin, for example using wet flannels.
If you don’t respond to these attempts to cool down within 30 minutes, call 999. Heat exhaustion isn’t usually serious. However, it can develop into heatstroke if it isn’t treated.
Symptoms of heatstroke
Heatstroke is an emergency. More severe symptoms can include:
- severe headache
- feeling very sick and being sick
- very hot, flushed skin
- no sweating, despite being hot
- a temperature of 40C (104F) or above
- rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- fits and loss of consciousness.
What to do
If anyone shows these symptoms, call 999.
While waiting for the ambulance:
- move the person somewhere cool
- give them water if they are conscious
- shower their skin with cool water or cover them in damp towels.
Put them in the recovery position if they lose consciousness.
If you’re worried about any health problems or you feel unwell, always contact your GP. You can also call NHS 111 for advice. The NHS website has more useful information on coping with heat.
It’s also a good idea to tell friends, family or a neighbour if you’re feeling unwell. Try to stay in touch with people even if you can’t go out much.