Article 20 July 2021

Cool it – protecting yourself in the heatwave

An amber warning has been issued in many parts of the UK this week as temperatures soar past 30 in some places. It’s important you know how to prevent heat related illness for yourself, for others, and for your pets.

In England, there are on average 2000 heat related deaths every year. People aged over 75 and the very young are most at risk, as well as people who have health conditions, work outside or are bed bound.

The main risks to health in such hot weather are dehydration (from not drinking enough water), heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It’s important to recognise the signs of these, so you can quickly help someone who becomes unwell, and you can find this information further down the page.

But, the best thing to do to avoid heatstroke, is to follow these tips from Public Health England, for staying safe and cool in the heat.

Advice for humans

  • Keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm. If you have to go out, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen, wear a hat or light scarf.
  • Avoid extreme physical exertion and wear light, loose-fitting cotton clothes.
  • Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially infants, young children or animals.
  • Have plenty of cold drinks, and avoid excess alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks.
  • Eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high water content.
  • Take a cool shower, sprinkle water over the skin or clothing, or keep a damp cloth on the back of your neck.
  • Keep windows and curtains in rooms that are exposed to the sun closed during the day, and open windows at night when the temperature has dropped.
  • Turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment – they generate heat. Consider cooking outdoors (e.g. on a BBQ) as ovens also heat the house up. 
  • Keep indoor plants and bowls of water in the house as evaporation helps cool the air. Electric fans may provide some relief, if temperatures are below 35°C.

Advice for animals

  • Make sure your pet has access to clean, fresh, cool water. Pop a few ice cubes in their water bowl to help their water stay cool. 
  • Make sure there’s a shady area outside they can go to escape the sun. If there’s no natural shade in your garden, you could just use a sheet.
  • You could put an ice pack wrapped in a towel in your pet’s bed to help keep it (and them) cool. Or you can buy cooling mats from most pet shops.
  • Offer your pet frozen treats.
  • Walk your dog early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the warmest parts of the day. Check the pavement before you go for a walk to make sure it’s not too hot.
  • Don’t leave yourpet in a glass conservatory, caravan or car, even for a minute.

Make sure you check in regularly with people who are most vulnerable to heat exhaustion, especially people who live alone, or have existing health issues.

The main symptoms to look out for are:​​​​

  • a headache
  • dizziness and confusion
  • loss of appetite and feeling sick
  • excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
  • cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
  • fast breathing or pulse
  • a high temperature of 38C or above
  • being very thirsty

If someone has signs of heat exhaustion the NHS advises you should:

  1. Move them to a cool place.
  2. Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.
  3. Get them to drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are OK.
  4. Cool their skin – spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs around the neck or under the arms are good, too.

If they’re not starting to feel better within 30 minutes, or if they get worse, have trouble breathing or lose consciousness, you should call 999.