With the current heatwave in the UK likely to continue to at least October, according to some reports, it raises the question of how the extraordinary heat can potentially affect our health.
The bottom line is heatwaves are becoming more frequent and more intense, as evidenced by the fact it hit a roasting 35.3C in Faversham, Kent on Thursday 26 July.
But with higher temperatures come additional dangers and considerations, particularly for the elderly, infants, people who work outside and individuals who are chronically ill. In fact, excess heat can cause everything from depression to heart attacks.
For example, in 2003, when the hottest summer on record hit Europe, at least 30,000 people lost their lives across the continent.
How does heat affect us?
We humans are endotherms (warm-blooded) and rely on our ability to keep our core body temperatures at around 37C to stay healthy. Now when the outside temperature is significantly higher than we are used to, our bodies look to self-regulate by producing sweat. This evaporates on our skin and helps cool us down.
However, some individuals – usually older people, infants and the chronically ill – often have insufficient sweating mechanisms, leaving them particularly vulnerable in hot weather as a result. The other issue very young children have is that they cannot proactively limit their sun exposure and are unable to keep themselves hydrated.
Should our bodies reach 40C, we enter a state known as hyperthermia (heatstroke). Not to be confused with hypothermia (when our body temperature drops too low), hyperthermia can cause dizziness, weakness, nausea and delirium. Failure to cool down, rehydrate and rest could see you risking your life.
The good news is that the adverse health effects associated with hotter weather can be lessened by following some simple steps.
Keeping cool when it’s scorching outside
It’s important to negate the negative effects of heat. Here are three tips from the World Health Organisation you should always follow:
- Keep your home cool – Use blinds and shutters throughout the day to reduce the ambient temperature inside your home and consider leaving a window open at night to allow the cooler air in.
- Keep out of the heat – Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day (between 3pm and 4.30pm) and avoid lots of physical activity in hotter weather. Stay in the shade where possible and take advantage of fans and air conditioning.
- Keep your body cool and hydrated – Wear light and loose-fitting clothing and cool your body down by taking cool showers or baths. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
As already mentioned, certain groups are at greater risk in the heat. That’s why you should check on elderly friends and relatives when the mercury’s rising. Also, ensure that young children are not exposed to too much heat and kept sufficiently hydrated at all times.
If you or someone you know feels anxious, dizzy or weak when it’s really hot, rest in a cool place, rehydrate orally (if possible) and seek medical help.
I joined Premier Choice Group as a Healthcare & Protection Consultant in 2017, where I now look after the needs of over 200 clients nationwide. Prior to joining the Premier Choice Group, I worked for a large Private Healthcare Insurer, VitalityHealth, and managed SME and Individual clients across the country.