Help in the heatwave
St John Ambulance volunteers throughout the country are
preparing to treat a rise in heat-related
illnesses as the country
is gripped by a heatwave - despite many
of them being very easy to prevent.
To help sun lovers enjoy the warmth while staying safe, the
nation’s leading first aid charity has issued summer first
John Newman, Head of Operations at St John Ambulance, commented:
‘Extreme heat can be dangerous, particularly for
the very young and old, but by being prepared you can spot
early warning signs of illness or care for someone
who needs your help.
Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are the most serious problems to develop in a heatwave so it’s essential that people can spot the signs.
St John Ambulance Head of Operations
‘Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are the most serious problems to
develop in a heatwave so it’s essential that people can spot the
signs. It’s also useful to know how to cope with ailments like
cramp, fainting, sunburn and dehydration which can sound minor but
are common problems that we treat people for at events, despite
many of them being easy to prevent.
‘For the first four days at Wimbledon we
treated 629 people for heat-related illnesses and we’re
expecting to see a rise as the heatwave develops. We’re
happy to care for those who need us but if we’re not around or if
you want to prevent summer illnesses it’s useful to know some
simple first aid. If you or someone with you is taken ill and
you’re concerned, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or
999 in an emergency.’
Summer first aid advice
- Prolonged hot weather and particularly exposure to the sun and
lack of fluids can cause your body to dangerously
overheat. This gives rise to a range of conditions
ranging from uncomfortable dehydration which can rapidly
deteriorate to life threatening heatstroke if you don’t recognise
and deal with it.
- Heatstroke. Someone
suffering from heatstroke may have skin that is flushed, hot and
dry to the touch. Their pulse becomes full and fast and they may
have a headache and feel dizzy. As the condition worsens they will
become disorientated and confused. It’s important to lower their
body temperature as soon as possible and they will need to go to
hospital urgently so dial 999 for an ambulance. To treat someone
suffering from heatstroke, move them to a cool place and with their
permission, remove as much of their outer clothing as possible.
Wrap them in a cold, wet sheet or a suitable alternative until
their temperature falls. If a sheet isn’t available sponge them
with cold water. If their temperature returns to normal replace the
sheet with a dry one and make a note of their pulse and breathing
until help arrives.
- Heat exhaustion is very
common and is caused by the loss of salt and water from excessive
sweating. Common symptoms include headache, dizziness, cramps and
breathing that is fast but weak. The person may have a pale face
sweat profusely. Take the person into a cool, shady area and make
them as comfortable as possible. Get them to lie down with raised
legs and provided they are conscious, give them plenty of water.
There are some oral rehydration powders that can be added to the
water if you have any or isotonic drinks can be used instead. It’s
a good idea to keep some with you in this weather.
- Dehydration happens when the
fluid lost from the body – usually through sweat – isn’t replaced.
Symptoms are a dry mouth and eyes, headaches, dark urine, dizziness
and confusion. Avoid it by drinking water regularly, not just when
you feel thirsty. The young and old are at particular risk, so it’s
crucial to rehydrate them promptly – and if you’re playing sports
or other demanding activities, your fluid needs will be much
higher. To treat dehydration, drink plenty of fluids; water is
normally suitable but you may prefer to add oral rehydration powder
to help replace the salts lost from the body.
- Fainting can be triggered by
heat. If you’re prone to fainting, ensure you eat and drink water
regularly and don’t stand up for extended periods during the
heatwave. If someone feels faint, advise them to lie down, then
raise their legs to improve blood flow to their brain. A faint
should only last for a brief period of time as once the person
falls to the ground they begin to recover. Make sure they have
fresh air, and clear away bystanders if you can. Watch their face
for signs of recovery, and as they begin to recover, help them to
sit up gradually and encourage them to remain seated until they
recover. If they stand up quickly they may collapse again.
- Sunburn is one of the most
common injuries presented to St John Ambulance volunteers. It’s
best to protect yourself by wearing sunscreen, protective clothing
and staying in the shade, but if it’s happened already there are
some easy ways to ease the pain. As soon as you notice, cover
yourself up and move out of the sun. Take frequent sips of cold
water and dab the burnt skin with a cold damp cloth, or if the area
is large, soak in a cool bath for around ten minutes. Calamine or
aftersun lotion can make you feel more comfortable. If your skin is
blistered or the burning extensive, you should seek medical advice
– this is particularly important with children. Otherwise, carry on
enjoying yourself but keep out of the sun.
- You’re more likely to get
cramp in the heat as it’s often caused by
sweating, dehydration or exercise. The sharp onset of pain makes it
alarming, but by stretching and massaging the affected muscles it
can quickly be brought under control. If it’s in the foot, stand
with your weight in the front of the foot to stretch the muscles.
If it’s in the calf, straighten your knee and flex the foot
upwards. If it’s in the front of the thigh, raise the leg and bend
the knee, and if it’s in the back of the thigh you should
straighten the knee. Massage the affected muscles afterwards.