How to stay well in the heat

You are less likely to notice if you feel hot or thirsty and it can take longer to cool down as you get older, so it’s important to take care and watch out for the symptoms of heat-related illness, especially in a heatwave.

Temperatures can sometimes get very high and it can become dangerously hot. The Met Office has a warning system if a heatwave is likely and it's important to be prepared.

Stay hydrated

Make sure you drink enough, even if you’re not thirsty, 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.

You can become dehydrated before you become thirsty. Keep an eye out for the symptoms of dehydration, which can include:

  • dizziness
  • thirst
  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • 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 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 on the packaging. Some medications may need to be stored below 25C or in the fridge.

What to wear

It’s important to protect your skin and your eyes if you're going outside. 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, eg 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.

Keep cool and plan ahead

The hottest time of day is between 11am and 3pm so avoid doing too much then and save housework or gardening for early morning or late evening.

  • Wear loose-fitting, light cotton clothes.
  • If you’re going out, take a hat, sunscreen and a bottle of water with you and 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.

Around the house

If it’s cooler indoors than outside, you can keep the heat out by closing the windows and pulling the curtains, although 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.

You could also:

  • 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
  • try going somewhere that is air-conditioned, such as a local library or cinema.

Symptoms to watch out for

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.

If you have these symptoms, go quickly to a cool place, lie down, drink plenty of water and 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.

Heatstroke is an emergency.  More severe symptoms can include:

  • confusion
  • 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.

If anyone shows these symptoms, call 999. While waiting for the ambulance, move the person somewhere cool, give them water if they are conscious, and shower their skin with cool water or cover them in damp towels. Put them in the recovery position if they lose consciousness.

Getting help

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.

Next steps

Read our guide Summer wise for more information.


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