How to cope with a heatwave: tips for beating the heat as the temperatures soar

The hot weather is back, but with temperatures set to soar into the high 30 this Bank Holiday weekend, do you know how to keep cool in a heatwave and detect heat stroke symptoms?

Why can hot weather in the UK heatwave be dangerous?

Excessive heat can:

  • Increase heart problems
  • Raise breathing problems
  • Cause dehydration
  • Cause heatstroke

Read more: How to get to sleep on a hot summer night

What is a heat wave?

A heat wave is defined as prolonged period of abnormally hot weather. Normally, early morning temperatures in July average around 13 – 14 degrees. Currently in the UK heatwave, the temperatures early on in the day are on average 10 degrees above that – thus, we are in the midst of a heatwave.

There are four different heatwave levels.

Level 1 – Green: This is the ‘normal’ state, where there is no more than a 50% risk of heatwave. People should just be aware of the risks of heat and the need to keep cool.

Level 2 – Amber: Alert and readiness – there’s now a 60% chance that ‘threshold’ temperatures will be reached for 2 or more days. ‘Threshold’ temperatures vary from region to region around the country, but are around 30°C during the day and 15°C at night.

Level 3 – Red: Heatwave action – this stage is reached when threshold temperatures have been reached in at least one region around the country.

Level 4 – Red Emergency: When the Heatwave Plan hits 4, the situation is extremely serious – this is when the heatwave is so severe that it’s likely to cause power or water shortages.

how to cope with a heatwave

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Who is most at risk during a UK heatwave?

Of course, we should all be careful during a heatwave, protecting ourselves from the damaging rays of the sun as much as we can.

But some people are particularly vulnerable during hot weather, including babies and young children, older people, people with long-term health conditions, and those who are very physically active a lot, such as athletes or outdoor labourers.

Practical tips on how to cope in hot weather

  • Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours, particularly the elderly or infirm, who may be less able to look after themselves in the heat.
  • Shut and shade windows when it’s hotter outside and open them for ventilation when it’s cooler outside – generally late evenings and early mornings are not as hot, so make sure you have your windows open at these times to let the cooler air in.
  • If you’re vulnerable to the effects of heat, avoid going out between 11am-3pm. Temperatures can continue to increase until about 5pm however, so make sure to stay equally protected and cautious until the early evening too.
  • Drink cold drinks like water or fruit juice regularly and avoid tea, coffee and alcohol – these drinks act as a diuretic and so can actually dehydrate you, at a time when you need as much hydration as possible!
  • Stay tuned to the weather forecast and plan ahead with supplies for any trips out. Make sure to watch out for advice from weather professionals too, as you would in any kind of extreme weather.

  • Stay in the shade where possible, wear a wide brimmed hat and protect yours and your children’s skin with plenty of suncream – SPF 30 is advised at a minimum. These tips especially apply to kids, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the sun.
  • Some weather experts also advise putting your bed sheets in the freezer a few hours before you head to bed, to create a cooler environment for sleeping.

Read more: How to keep cool when pregnant

How to cope with hot weather for homeowners

Homeowners can also take other practical steps to stay cool during the summer, including:

  • Shading south and west-facing windows
  • Painting buildings and surrounding walls white to reflect heat
  • Planting small trees and shrubs around buildings to deflect heat
  • Replacing metal blinds with curtains with white linings to reflect heat outwards where possible.

What is heat stroke? How to recognise heat stroke or heat exhaustion in people:

Heat stroke symptoms to look out for:

  • Headaches
  • Intense thirst
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Hot, red and dry skin
  • Sudden rise in temperature
  • Aggression, confusion, convulsions or loss of consciousness

Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency, so if you notice heat stroke symptoms in someone you know, or suspect they’re suffering heatstroke, call 999 immediately.

While waiting for the ambulance:

  • Move the person somewhere cooler
  • Loosen clothes and sprinkle them with cool water, or use a cool damp sheet
  • If they are conscious, give them water
  • Do not give them paracetamol or aspirin

Heat exhaustion is less serious than heat stroke, but should still be treated quickly to prevent it developing in to heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Pale skin
  • High temperature

What to do when heat exhaustion symptoms appear

  • Move somewhere cool
  • Drink plenty of water or fruit juice
  • Take a lukewarm shower or sponge yourself with cold water

Of course, it’s always best to pre-empt the symptoms, by following all of the above steps to keep yourself healthy; drinking plenty of water, staying inside, staying in the shade where possible, and avoiding any strenuous exercise in hot weather.