Update August 12, 2022: Amber alert for England until 14 August. Temperatures expected in the high 20s, low 30s.
July 13, 2022: As parts of England face record temperatures over the next few days, first aid and health response charity St John Ambulance shares simple - potentially lifesaving – advice staying safe and cool in the hot weather.
St John Ambulance’s heatwave essentials include:
- Keep hydrated
- Wear sunscreen
- Wear a hat or stay in the shade
But knowing how to spot the symptoms and treat common heat-related conditions such as fainting, sunburn and dehydration can also be vital in helping people look after themselves and others, as well as preventing avoidable trips to hospital.
St John Ambulance’s Medical Director, Dr Lynn Thomas, says: "We want everyone to enjoy the summer, but temperatures are expected to reach over 30 degrees in some parts of the UK, and it’s likely to stay hot for several days, so it’s even more important we know what to do to keep ourselves and our families safe and well.
"Some really simple ways you can avoid adverse effects of the sun include staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water - little and often is preferable - staying out of the sun at peak times, and by wearing sunscreen with a minimum broad-spectrum SPF 30.
"Young children and elderly relatives and neighbours are particularly vulnerable in warm weather and so I’d advise to check in with them, ensuring they have plenty of ways to keep hydrated, as any increase in temperature can be dangerous. Wearing a sun hat to avoid direct sun exposure is also helpful to keep the direct sun off your face.
Extreme heat can impact our health, and whilst cold weather is a far bigger risk currently, NHS England says on average there are around 2,000 heat-related deaths each year – figures that may well rise as the country sees more hot weather events.
Hot weather first aid advice from St John Ambulance
Long periods in the sun can take its toll after a while and can lead to heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is caused by a loss of salt and water from the body, usually through excessive sweating. It develops slowly and usually happens to people who aren’t used to hot, humid weather. If you’re at a festival and it’s very hot, it’s easy to suffer from heat exhaustion.
How to spot heat exhaustion:
There are six key things that you may lead you to suspect that someone has heat exhaustion:
- Dizziness and confusion
- Loss of appetite and feeling sick
- Sweating with pale clammy skin
- Cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
- Fast, weakening pulse and breathing
How to treat heat exhaustion:
- Help them to lie down in a cool place and raise their legs.
- Give them lots of water to drink or isotonic sports drinks.
- Check their breathing, pulse and responsiveness.
- Suggest they get medical advice. Call 999/112 if you are concerned.
Heatstroke is even more serious than heat exhaustion, and can be life-threatening.
How to spot heat stroke:
There are the six key things to look out for:
- Headache, dizziness and discomfort
- Restlessness and confusion
- Hot flushed and dry skin
- A fast deterioration in the level of response
- A full bounding pulse
- Body temperature above 40°C (104°F)
How to treat heatstroke:
- Move them to a cool place and remove their out clothing.
- Call 999/112.
- Sit the individual down and wrap them in a cool, wet sheet. If there isn’t a sheet available fan them or sponge them down with cold water to keep them cool. If available, use cold packs placed in the armpits and around the neck.
- Once their temperature seems to have gone back to normal, replace the wet sheet with a dry sheet.
- While waiting for help to arrive, keep checking their temperature, as well as their breathing, pulse and level of response.
- If they start getting hot again, repeat the cooling process to lower their temperature.
Whether you’re out in the park, or relaxing on the beach, it’s important to avoid too much exposure to the sun by covering up with clothing, staying in the shade and applying high factor sunscreen. Most sunburn is mild, but in severe cases the skin can become damaged, turn lobster red and blister. They may also develop heat exhaustion.
What to look for:
- Reddened skin
- Pain in the area of the burn
- There may be blistering
How to treat sunburn:
- Cover the skin with light clothing and move them out of the sun.
- Give them cold water to sip.
- Cool the skin with cool water for 10 minutes.
- Apply calamine lotion to soothe mild sunburn
- If there are blisters, advise that they see a healthcare professional.
- Treat any symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke and get medical help.
Dehydration happens when someone loses more fluid than they take in, especially if it’s really hot and sweaty outside, so make sure you’re sipping lots of water at regular intervals.
How to spot dehydration:
There are four key things to look for if someone is suffering from dehydration:
- They may complain of headaches and light headedness
- Dry mouth, eyes and lips
- Pass only small amounts of dark urine
- Have muscle cramps
How to treat dehydration:
- Help them to sit down and give them plenty of water to drink.
- Giving them an oral rehydration solution to drink will help replace salt and other minerals which they’ve lost – you can buy this in sachets from any pharmacy.
- If they have any painful cramps, encourage them to rest, help them stretch and massage their muscles that hurt.
- Keep checking how they’re feeling – if they still feel unwell once they’re rehydrated then encourage them to see a healthcare professional straight away.
If left untreated, someone with dehydration can develop heat exhaustion, which is more serious, so it’s important to make sure they rehydrate themselves as soon as possible.
Hay fever is a very common condition that affects over 10 million people in England. It is caused by an allergy to pollen and usually causes mild symptoms of itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing.
How can you reduce symptoms:
- If you know that you have hay fever, ideally, it is recommended to start taking hay fever medications a few weeks before the pollen season starts – one to remember for next year!. A useful online pollen calendar can be a great tool to help guide you.
- Pharmacists can give advice on the best treatment for your symptoms, there are lots of treatments available, including those that can be taken orally or put directly into the eyes or nose.
- Regularly vacuuming and damp-dusting can also help keep the levels of pollen down in your home. Some vacuum cleaners come with a HEPA filter that can reduce the levels even more.
- Vaseline around your nostrils can help trap pollen.
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses, since this can prevent the pollen getting to your eyes and irritating them.
When should I see my GP?
- You should see your GP if your symptoms are getting worse or not responding to the treatments advised by the pharmacist. Also, consult a doctor if you are asthmatic and are noticing that your chest is tight and/or you have persistent cough.
- The GP may prescribe other treatments. These may include steroid nasal spray. In some severe cases, you may be referred to an allergy specialist.
Fainting is when someone briefly becomes unresponsive, often causing them to fall to the ground. It happens because for a moment, there is not enough blood flowing to the brain.
People often faint as a reaction to pain, exhaustion, hunger, or emotional stress. It is also common for people to faint after they have been standing or sitting still for a long period of time, especially if they’re feeling hot.
What to look for:
- There may be a brief loss of response, often causing them to fall to the ground.
- They may have a slow pulse.
- They may have pale, cold skin and sweating.
How to treat someone who has fainted:
- Advise them to lie down.
- If possible, elevate their legs slightly using a stool, cushions or pillows. Make sure they get plenty of fresh air and ask other people to stand back.
- Reassure them and help them to sit up slowly, when they feel better.
- If they stay unresponsive, open their airway, check their breathing and prepare to treat someone who is unresponsive.
For more first aid advice visit www.sja.org.uk, or to keep up with the latest St John news by searching #AskMe.