Heatwaves are Dangerous

November 12, 2012

Heatwaves are Dangerous

Summer time always catches some of us out. The hot weather is a pleasant change, however when it gets too hot it can become harmful and it can contribute to deaths and illnesses. It’s an all too common occurrence to find someone unwell because of the effects of a heat wave. Certain groups are more vulnerable than others to the effects of the heat and sun. The very young, the elderly and anyone who is seriously ill must be looked after during a heat wave or a prolonged period of hot and sunny weather. People with heart and breathing problems are also at increased risk of a problem developing because of the increased temperature. Others at risk can include people with mental problems, anyone with a mobility problem, such as Parkinson’s disease or perhaps they have had a stroke. Someone exerting themselves outside, maybe a labourer or sports person can also be at risk if they do not take precautions. And finally some prescription drugs can affect your body’s temperature control and sweating, illegal users of drugs and alcohol are also vulnerable.

“There is considerable evidence that heatwaves are dangerous and can kill,” says Graham Bickler of the Health Protection Agency in response to the nine day heatwave in August 2003. This heatwave was the hottest recorded in the UK and temperatures reached 38C (101F). He also goes on to state that, “In the 2003 heatwave there were 2,000 to 3,000 excess deaths (more than usual) in England. Across Europe, there were around 30,000 excess deaths.”

Government Warnings

The government does give advice, through its agencies on the different methods to remain cool when a heatwave appears. It is being able to remain cool that saves lives. Bickler also adds that the advice is really just common sense but by following it can have a dramatic effect on your wellbeing.

If you live in the UK and were subjected to daytime temperatures of 30° C and night time never got cooler than 15°C then you would be made aware that a health alert had been instigated. In as short a period of time as two days and the night in between, these temperatures can have a negative impact on the health of some of the population.

Because of problems during previous heatwaves the Meteorological Office has implemented a heatwave warning system. Alerts will be issued if a heatwave is forecast. The warning system has four levels, level one being the minimum. This is in place from June 1 until September 15, effectively all of the summer. It indicates to the population what action to take if the severity level rises. A level two alert indicates that there is a high chance of a heatwave occurring within the next couple of days. Level three indicates that a heatwave is happening and level four tells the public that the heatwave is severe.

Problems posed by a Heatwave

A heatwave can affect everyone in a different way, but generally the common symptoms of being affected include dehydration, this is the name given when your body is not having enough water. This can cause you to become irritable or confused, maybe you will have a headache and you will find it hard to concentrate. If nothing is done to alleviate the dehydration then it will ultimately lead to death. The human body can begin overheating, which will exacerbate any symptoms that people already have, such as problems with their heart or breathing. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke can also occur.

If someone does feel unwell, then move them to the coolest spot available and give them lots of cool drinks. If symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, weakness, confusion, dizziness or cramps worsen or don’t go away, then seek medical help.

How to cope during a Heatwave

As stated earlier, most of this advice is common sense and applies to everyone. It has the aim of minimising health risks by keeping your body cool and comfortable. The first thing to do is shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter outside and find out what room is the coolest and stay there. When it cools down a little then open the windows for ventilation. Always remain indoors during the hottest part of the day, (11am to 3 pm) and use shades on all of your windows or close your curtains. Cool baths or showers are effective ways to cool the body down, or just splash cool water over yourself. Avoid hot drinks and alcohol and drink plenty of cool drinks. Water is very good. Make sure that there is enough food in the house, if you are on medications then ensure that you do not run out, and if you drink bottled water have plenty of that too. If you do have to go outside then wear a hat and loose cool clothing. Make sure that you get updated information about the heatwave and check on others who may be less able than you. By following this advice you negate many of the risks of a heatwave.

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