Heatwave - Be Prepared!
Most of us welcome hot weather, but when it's too hot for
too long there are health risks. If a heatwave hits this
summer, make sure the hot weather doesn't harm you or anyone you
The very young, the elderly and the seriously ill are the groups
who are particularly at risk of health problems when the
weather is very hot. In particular, very hot weather can make
heart and breathing problems worse.
"There is considerable evidence that heatwaves are dangerous and
can kill," says Graham Bickler of the Health Protection Agency. In
August 2003, temperatures hit 38C (101F) during a nine-day
heatwave, the highest recorded in the UK.
"In the 2003 heatwave there were 2,000 to 3,000 excess deaths
(more than usual) in England. Across Europe, there were round
30,000 excess deaths."
The Public Health
England's heatwave plan 2013 (PDF, 923kb) has advice on how to
cope during a heatwave. Knowing how to keep cool during long
periods of hot weather can help save lives.
"Most of the information is common sense," says Bickler. "It's
not rocket science but it can have a dramatic effect."
When heat becomes a problem
An average temperature of 30°C by day and 15°C overnight would
trigger a health alert (this figure varies slightly around the UK).
These temperatures can have a significant effect on people's health
if they last for at least two days and the night in between.
The Meterological Office has a warning system that issues
alerts if a heatwave is likely. Level one is the minimum alert and
is in place from June 1 until September 15 (which is the
period that heatwave alerts are likely to be raised).
- The minimum alert simply means that people should be aware of
what to do if the alert level is raised.
- If a level two alert is issued, there is a high chance
that a heatwave will occur within the next few days.
- The level three alert is when a heatwave is
- The level four alert is when a heatwave is
Why is a heatwave a problem?
The main risks posed by a heatwave are:
dehydration (not having enough water)
- overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who
already have problems with their heart or breathing
- heat exhaustion
Who is most at risk?
A heatwave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people in
extreme heat are:
- older people, especially those over 75
- babies and young children
- people with a serious chronic condition, especially heart or
- people with mobility problems, for example people with
Parkinson's disease or who have had a stroke
- people with serious mental health problems
- people on certain medications, including those that affect
sweating and temperature control
- people who misuse alcohol or drugs
- people who are physically active, for example labourers or
those doing sports
Tips for coping in hot weather
The following advice applies to everybody when it comes to
keeping cool and comfortable and reducing health risks:
- Shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter
outside. If it's safe, open them for ventilation when it is
- Avoid the heat: stay out of the sun and don't go out between
11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day) if you're vulnerable to
the effects of heat.
- Keep rooms cool by using shades or reflective material outside
the windows. If this isn't possible, use light-coloured curtains
and keep them closed (metallic blinds and dark curtains can make
the room hotter).
- Have cool baths or showers, and splash yourself with cool
- Drink cold drinks regularly, such as water and fruit juice.
Avoid tea, coffee and alcohol.
- Stay tuned to the weather forecast on the radio or TV, or at
the Met Office
- Plan ahead to make sure you have enough supplies, such as food,
water and any medications you need.
- Identify the coolest room in the house so you know where to go
to keep cool.
- Wear loose, cool clothing, and a hat if you go outdoors.
- Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be less
able to look after themselves.
Find out more about what to do during a
heatwave alert level two,
level three or
If you're worried about yourself or a vulnerable neighbour,
friend or relative, you can contact the local environmental health
office at your local authority. Environmental health workers can
visit a home to inspect it for hazards to health, including excess
your local authority on the Directgov website.
How do I know if someone needs help?
If someone feels unwell, get them somewhere cool to rest. Give
them plenty of fluids to drink.
If symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, confusion,
weakness, dizziness or cramps get worse or don't go away, seek
Find out about the
symptoms of dehydration.
The Department of Health has produced a leaflet about keeping
well in hot weather. To order a copy of Heatwave: looking after
yourself and others during hot weather, call 0300 123 1002 or visit
and quote 301454/Heatwave. You can also download Heatwave: looking
after yourself and others (PDF, 101kb) to read online.