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As hot and sunny days become more synonymous with “British Summer Time” over the rainy, grey days of the past, it’s important to remember how heat can affect our health. For the chronically unwell, elderly, or very young, extreme heat can cause significant health risks and it is best to know how to keep you and your family safe in the event of the hot weather. Those who have physical jobs outdoors can also find themselves more vulnerable.

If the weatherman is predicting a heatwave one of the key pieces of advice is to stay indoors or in the shade whenever possible and particularly between the hottest hours of 11am and 3pm. 

A lot of this advice may seem like common sense, but often we underestimate the effects of heat on our bodies. The main health problems produced by extreme heat are dehydration and/or overheating, which can worsen the symptoms of existing heart or breathing problems. More severely, you could also suffer from heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Heat exhaustion is where the body starts to become very warm, and loses water and salt by sweating. This may lead to feelings of lethargy, increased thirst and headache. 

Heatstroke is more serious and is where the body is no longer able to cool itself and the body’s temperature becomes dangerously high. Sunstroke is when this is caused by prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. This can be life threatening but is, thankfully, rare. 

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

Stay out of the sun and try to avoid getting too hot. Regular cool baths or showers, or splashing your face with cold water are useful ways of keeping cool.

Dress appropriately. Try to wear natural fabrics that are loose and not restricting. Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes and always remember to apply a high SPF sun cream if you’re going outside. Keep rooms cool by closing curtains or blinds and leave a fan or air conditioning unit on if you have them.   

If you or someone else feels unwell, find somewhere cool to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Always seek medical help if symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, confusion, weakness, dizziness or cramps get worse, or don’t go away.

Dr. Nitin Shori is a GP with the NHS and Pharmacy2U, an online service which provides free, fast and convenient delivery of NHS repeat prescriptions