Beat the heat: staying safe in hot weather

Although most of us welcome the summer sun, high temperatures can be harmful to your health. In one hot spell in August 2003, in England and Wales there were more than 2,000 extra deaths than would normally be expected.

The heat can affect anyone, but some people run a greater risk of serious harm. As our climate changes, hot spells are expected to be more frequent and more intense.

This graphic summarizes what to do when the weather is very hot.

For more information visit www.nhs.uk/heatwave or continue reading this page which will advise you how to stay safe or help others to stay safe in hot weather, including how to keep your home cool.

Stay connected: Look after yourself, check on others. especially older or more frail people

Why is this important? 

  • The heat can affect anyone, but some people run a greater risk of serious harm. Remember to think of those who may be more at risk from the effects of heat – these include the following:
  • older people, especially those over 75
  • babies and young children
  • people with a serious chronic condition, particularly dementia, heart, breathing or mobility problems 
  • people with serious mental health problems 
  • people on certain medications, including those that affect sweating and temperature control (for example, diuretics, antihistamines, beta-blockers and antipsychotics)
  • people who are already ill and dehydrated (for example, from gastroenteritis)
  • people who misuse alcohol or drugs 
  • people who are physically active (for example, soldiers, athletes, hikers and manual workers)
  • homeless people

What can I do? 

  • Stay out of the heat, cool yourself down, keep your environment cool or find somewhere else that is cool. 
  • Look out for neighbours, family or friends who may be isolated and unable to care for themselves; make sure they are able to keep cool during a heatwave.
  • get medical advice if you are suffering from a chronic medical condition or taking multiple medications 
  • make sure medicines are stored below 25°C or in the fridge (read the storage instructions on the packaging)  carry on taking all prescribed medicines unless advised not to by a medical professional. But be aware that some prescription medicines can reduce your tolerance of heat 
  • be alert and if someone is unwell or needs further help seek medical advice

Listen to the weather forecast and the news and plan ahead

Why is this important? 

Knowing the forecast can help you plan ahead.  Heatwaves may affect other services, such as power and water supplies, as well as transport. Air pollution can become worse during periods of hot weather.

It is best to avoid getting too hot in the first place. If you plan ahead you can avoid situations where you become dangerously hot

What can I do?

  • avoid being out in the sun during the hottest part of the day (around midday) and plan your day to avoid heavy activity during extreme heat 
  • bring everything you will need with you, such as a bottle of water, sun cream and a hat 
  • if you have to go out in the heat, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen, and wear a hat and light clothing 
  • be prepared, as heatwaves can affect transport services and you might need extra water for your journey

Essential Tips to Help you Stay Well

Drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and caffeine

Why is this important? 

Everyone is at risk of dehydration in hot temperatures. Some drinks can increase dehydration such as drinks with alcohol or caffeine (including tea, coffee or cola drinks), and drinks high in sugar

What can I do? 

  • have plenty of cold drinks, and avoid excess alcohol, caffeine or drinks high in sugar.
  • If drinking fruit juice, dilute it with water 
  • if you’re not urinating frequently or your urine is dark, it's a sign that you're becoming dehydrated and need to drink more 
  • eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high water content 
  • Dress appropriately for the weather
  • Why is this important? 
  • Dressing appropriately can protect you from the sun’s radiation and keep you cool to prevent heat-related illness. Children are particularly at risk of skin damage from the sun

What can I do?

  • If you have to go out in the heat, walk in the shade and wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light coloured cotton clothes 
  • Wear suitable headwear, such as a wide-brimmed hat, to reduce exposure to the face, eyes, head and neck 
  • When exposed to direct sunlight, cover your skin with clothing giving good protection; examples are long-sleeved shirts and loose clothing with a close weave.
  • At home wear as little clothing as necessary 
  • Sunglasses should be effective against both direct and peripheral exposure of the eye to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, so a wraparound design is best 
  • Apply sunblock, or broad-spectrum sunscreens, with high sun protection factor (SPF) of at least SPF 15 and with UVA protection regularly to exposed skin

Slow down and avoid heavy activity

Why is this important?

Heavy activity can make you prone to heat-related illnesses

What can I do? 

  • Avoid extreme physical exertion. If you can’t avoid strenuous outdoor activity, such as sport, DIY or gardening, keep it for cooler parts of the day – for example, in the early morning or evening 
  • Children should not take part in vigorous physical activity on very hot days, such as when temperatures are above 30°C
  • Find somewhere cool

Keep your home cool

Why is this important?

Even during a relatively cool summer, 1 in 5 homes are likely to overheat  For many people, this makes life uncomfortable and sleeping difficult. Some people are particularly vulnerable to heat and for them a hot home can worsen existing health conditions, or even make them very ill.

What can I do?

In preparation for warmer weather, use this simple checklist to find out if your home is at risk of overheating and what you can do if there is a problem.

  • shade or cover windows exposed to direct sunlight, external shutters or shades are very effective, while internal blinds or curtains are less effective but cheaper and easier to install 
  • metallic blinds and dark curtains can make a room hotter 
  • open windows when the air feels cooler outside than inside, for example, at night.
  • Try to get air flowing through your home, if possible 
  • turn off the central heating 
  • turn off lights and electrical equipment that aren’t in use 
  • use electric fans if the temperature is below 35°C, but do not aim the fan directly at the body and ensure you stay hydrated with regular drinks 
  • check that fridges, freezers and fans are working properly 
  • Consider the risk of overheating if buying or renting, particularly for vulnerable people 
  • if you have concerns about an uncomfortably hot home that is affecting your health or someone else’s health, seek medical advice 

Go indoors or outdoors, whichever feels cooler

Why is this important?

It is important for your health to avoid getting hot in the first place. If you do get hot, it is important to give your body a break from the heat. It may be cooler outside in the shade than it is inside an overheated building

What can I do?

  • Take a break from the heat by moving to a cooler part of the house (especially for sleeping) 
  • Find some shaded green space
  • have a cool bath or shower 
  • remember lots of public buildings (such as places of worship, local libraries or supermarkets) can be cool in summer; consider a visit as a way of cooling down

Cars get hot, avoid closed spaces

Why is this important?

Small closed spaces, such as cars, can get dangerously hot very quickly. Some people, especially babies, young children and older people find it harder to stay cool as they may not be able to move themselves to a cool place if they are dependent on others

What can I do?

  • ensure that babies, children or older people are not left alone in stationary cars or other closed spaces 
  • look out for children in prams or pushchairs in hot weather; keep them in the shade, remove excess clothing, ensure there is adequate air flow, and check regularly to ensure they are not overheated 
  • For more information about how to identify if a baby/child is overheated, visit NHS Choices 

Be on the lookout for signs of heat-related illness

Why is this important?

Chronic illnesses can get worse in hot weather. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two potentially serious conditions that can occur if you get too hot.

Heat exhaustion is where you become very hot and start to lose water or salt from your body. Common symptoms include weakness, feeling faint, headache, muscle cramps, feeling sick, heavy sweating and intense thirst.

Heatstroke is where the body is no longer able to cool itself and a person's body temperature becomes dangerously high. Heatstroke is less common, but more serious.

Untreated symptoms include confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness

What can I do?

Learn more about common signs and symptoms to look out for. 

What to do if you think someone is too hot

If you or someone else is too hot, cool your skin with water, slow down and rehydrate.

Why is this important?

If heat exhaustion isn't spotted and treated early on, there's a risk it could lead to heatstroke. Untreated heatstroke can be fatal

What can I do?

If you notice that someone has signs of heat-related illness, you should:

  • get them to lie down in a cool place – such as a room with air conditioning or somewhere in the shade
  • remove any unnecessary clothing to expose as much of their skin as possible o cool their skin with cool water, you could use a cool wet sponge or flannel, cool water spray, cold packs around the neck and armpits, or wrap them in a cool, wet sheet o fan their skin while it’s moist – this will help the water to evaporate, which will help their skin cool down.
  • An electric fan could be helpful to create an air current if the temperature is below 35oC, but fans can cause excess dehydration so they should not be aimed directly on the body and will not be enough to keep them cool at temperatures above 35oC
  • get them to drink cool fluids – these should ideally be water, diluted fruit juice or a rehydration drink, such as a sports drink
  • do not give them aspirin or paracetamol – this can put the body under more strain. They should carry on taking all other prescribed medicines unless advised not to by a medical professional 
  • stay with the person until they're feeling better. Most people should start to recover within 30 minutes

Get help if the person doesn't improve or is very ill. Call NHS 111 or in an emergency 999

Why is this important?

Severe heat exhaustion or heatstroke requires hospital treatment

What can I do?

If a person has improved with the cooling advice above but you still have concerns about them, contact your GP or NHS 111 for advice 

You should call 999 for an ambulance if:

  • the person doesn't respond to the above cooling treatments within 30 minutes
  • the person has severe symptoms, such as a loss of consciousness, confusion or seizures  i
  • if the person is unconscious, you should follow the steps above and place them in the recovery position until help arrives. If they have a seizure, move nearby objects out of the way to prevent injury