With temperatures expected to rise above 30C across the country this week, St John Ambulance is sharing some simple, but life saving first aid tips to help keep communities safe in the sun.
Knowing how to spot the symptoms of and treat common heat-related conditions such as fainting, sunburn and dehydration can be vital to help people look after themselves and others, as well as helping to prevent avoidable trips to hospital at a time when NHS resources are under additional pressure.
Dr Lynn Thomas, Medical Director at St John Ambulance said: “Extreme heat can be very dangerous, particularly for the very young and old, and we would encourage everyone to check on their elderly relatives and neighbours especially those who may be shielding. It is important everyone looks after themselves this week by keeping out of the sun or covering up, wearing sunscreen and drinking plenty of water.
“You could end up in the sun for longer than expected on what would normally be a quick journey, such as queuing to enter the supermarket, so you should be prepared to look after yourself and others. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two of the most serious problems that can develop when the mercury soars but by being prepared you can spot the early warning signs, such as headache and dizziness.
“Knowing what action to take, could mean you might be the difference between life and death in an emergency in your community.”
Volunteers from St John will be supporting the NHS during the hot weather this week by crewing ambulances, helping in hospitals and on a wide range of community projects as part of the charity’s biggest deployment during peacetime, to meet the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis.
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 may 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.
- Kneel down beside them and raise their legs on your shoulders. Watch their face for signs of recovery.
- 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.
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.
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 hot, humid weather.
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 shallow 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 heatstroke:
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 outer clothing.
- Call 999/112.
- Wrap them in a cool, wet sheet and keep pouring cold water over the sheet until their temperature falls to at least 37.5°C (measured under the armpit). If a wet sheet isn’t available, then fan the individual or sponge them down with cold water to keep them cool.
- 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.