Who is at risk during a heat wave?
Extreme heat is dangerous to everyone but especially so to elderly people and those in certain at-risk groups.
Those at particular risk during a heat wave include:
- elderly people, especially those over 75 years old and living on their own;
- people suffering from mental ill health, those with dementia, and those who rely on help from other people to manage day-to-day activities;
- people who are bed-bound;
- people taking certain types of medication (diuretics, blood pressure meds, etc.)
- people suffering from chronic ill health, particularly breathing or heart problems;
- people who use alcohol or illicit drugs;
- babies and young children, especially under four years old;
- people who are physically active such as manual workers, or sportsmen and women
What symptoms should you look out for?
- an intense thirst
- hot red and dry skin
- a sudden rise in temperature
- convulsions and a loss of consciousness
Heatstroke can develop if heat exhaustion is left untreated, but can also occur suddenly and without warning. It can result in irreversible damage to the body, including the brain, or death.
Steps to take during a heat wave
- Listen to bulletins on radio and television and follow health advice.
- If a heat wave is forecast, try to plan your day in a way that allows you to stay out of the heat.
- If possible, avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11 a.m. - 3 p.m.).
- If you must go out, stay in the shade. Wear a hat and light loose-fitting clothes, preferably cotton. If you will be outside for some time, take plenty of water with you.
- Take cool showers or baths and splash yourself several times a day with cold water, particularly your face and the back of your neck.
- Drink plenty of fluids, particularly Gatorade or sport drinks that replace salt.
- Eat as you normally would. Try to eat more cold food, particularly salads and fruit, which contain water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Elder people are much more prone to the effects of heat. You can help older relatives or neighbors by checking on them, if possible, every day, and reminding them to drink plenty and often. They should have a mixture of drinks including fruit juice and water. Help them to keep their house as cool as possible, drawing curtains, opening windows at night, or using a fan if necessary.
When should you seek advice?
Contact your doctor if you have any unusual symptoms during a heat wave.
Watch out for cramp in the arms, legs or stomach, feelings of mild confusion, weakness or problems sleeping.
If you do have these symptoms, rest for several hours, keep cool and drink plenty of water, fruit juice, or sports drinks that will replace the salt that has been lost. Salty snacks are appropriate as tolerated. Loosen or remove clothing. Do not use an alcohol rub.
Seek medical advice if any of these symptoms get worse or do not go away.