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Eight heatwave health myths busted

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Health Protection


1. It only gets hot enough to be dangerous in countries warmer than the UK

Clearly there are many other countries which experience much higher temperatures than the UK, and sometimes many more deaths, for example as witnessed in India in 2015.

But the impact heat has on our health depends on how well we are acclimatised to the temperatures physiologically, and also how well our cities and infrastructure are adapted to the heat.

Public buildings and many homes in hot countries are air conditioned, and towns adapted to the heat with shutters on windows, shaded streets, and trees and water features to keep the environment cool.

2.People only die in this country in really hot weather

Although health risks increase the hotter it gets, heat-related deaths start at outdoor temperatures most of us may feel comfortable in, for example just under 25°C in London.

3.Only frail or older people die in hot weather

Even fit and healthy people can succumb to heat illness in very high temperatures or when doing very strenuous activity, whether novices at the London marathon or professional cyclists in the Tour de France. There may also be hidden dangers, for example risks of injury or drowning when swimming in rivers and reservoirs.

4.Old people feel the cold, so keeping the environment warm will help their health

It’s true that older people are at  risk from cold temperatures, and advice during winter is to ensure that room temperatures are at least 18°C, but hot weather can also cause problems.  We’re particularly concerned about homes, hospitals and care homes overheating, where health and care staff members may not be fully aware of the risks of heat and the best action to take.

5.Sunburn is the biggest problem in hot weather

While it’s important to protect ourselves from exposure to UV from the sun, heat itself is a significant health risk. Signs and symptoms of dehydration and heat related illness can develop quickly. The greatest health risks in hot weather are to those with underlying health problems (such as heart and lung conditions), older people and young children – heat puts significant additional strains on their bodies and can cause major  health problems, and can even kill.

6.The best advice in a heatwave is to stay inside

Not always! Where there’s air conditioning it may well be safer for some at-risk people to stay indoors, but air conditioning in homes is not the rule in the UK. Some homes are reported to be overheating , with certain types of building at particular risk, for instance top floor and single aspect flats and those of more recent construction. It may be cooler to go to a park where there’s a breeze and some shade, than stay in an overheated home. An alternative is to visit one of the many air conditioned public buildings we have to get some relief from the heat, for example libraries or museums.

The best advice is to consider your own environment. There are things we can do to keep our homes cool, and keeping our bedrooms as cool as possible is important to help us sleep and give us some respite from the heat during the night.

7.When it’s hot outside, opening windows will keep you cool inside

When it’s hot outside, it’s tempting to open all the windows. But if it’s hotter outside than in, you may just be allowing more hot air in.  Open windows when the air feels cooler outside than inside to let out the heat, for example, at night, but be aware of security and other concerns. If you’re able to get air flowing through your home by opening windows on either side of the building that will help.

To stop heat entering through the windows, consider covering windows exposed to direct sunlight. External shutters or shades are very effective, while internal blinds or curtains are less effective but cheaper and easier to install.  You can reduce heat accumulating indoors by turning off all non-essential electrical equipment.

8.A future climate that’s a couple of degrees hotter in England will be great

A global increase in average surface temperature doesn’t sound a lot, but it will have significant impacts on our health and infrastructure even in this country.  As our climate warms and our population ages, heat-related deaths are expected to increase, along with a number of other health effects. That’s why we all need to start thinking now about protecting our homes, and critically our health from the ill effects of hot weather that are undoubtedly coming our way.

Image: Mary

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1 comment

  1. Comment by malcolm marshall posted on

    More nanny Advice! just come back from 3 hour walk 2 cans of coke and a ice cream have my windows open why don't you lot find something useful to do like get out from be hide you bloody desks and start living like normal people brighton beach is pack