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Tips on how to cope in a heatwave

Dr. Alexandra Phelan: General Practictioner | minute read

As the weather heats up it’s important to remember how heat can affect our everyday health. For the chronically unwell, elderly, or very young, extreme heat can pose significant health risks and it’s best to know how to keep you and your family safe in the event of very hot weather.

One of the key pieces of advice is to stay indoors or in the shade, particularly between the hottest hours of 11am and 3pm. A lot of the best advice may seem like common sense, but often we underestimate the effects of heat on our bodies. Health issues caused by heat waves include dehydration and/or overheating, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunstroke. Heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunstroke are illnesses that can occur in more severe circumstances. We share information and tips on how you can stay safe during very hot weather.

Heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunstroke

Heat exhaustion is where the body starts to lose too much water and salt through sweating. This may lead to feelings of lethargy, increased thirst, and headache.

Heatstroke is where the body is no longer able to cool itself, and the body’s temperature becomes dangerously high. Sunstroke is more severe and caused by prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. In the worst scenario, sunstroke can be life threatening but this is extremely rare.

How to avoid overheating


Consume cold drinks regularly, ideally water, and avoid tea, coffee and alcohol as these can further dehydrate the body.  

Cool water

Regular cool baths or showers, or splashing your face with cold water, are other useful ways of keeping cool. 


Try to wear lightweight, light coloured and loose clothing. Loose fitting clothing will allow air circulation around your body and light coloured fabrics will reflect the light and heat. Try to also choose natural fabrics such as cotton and linen as these are better at letting your skin breathe. 

Shade yourself 

Make an effort to stay out of the sun, but if you must go outside, wear a hat as well as sunglasses to protect your eyes and face.  

Protect your skin

Always remember to apply sun cream with an SPF of at least 30, even if the sky is cloudy as UV rays can still pass through and cause damage to your skin.


If it is really hot, try to avoid doing any strenuous activity that can cause your body to increase in temperature even further. If you or someone else feels unwell, find somewhere cool to rest and drink plenty of water. 

Medical assistance

Most importantly, always seek medical help if symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, confusion, weakness, dizziness or cramps get worse, or don't go away.