The recent heatwave in the UK has ceased for the time being and many Britons will no doubt be breathing a sigh of relief. These extended periods of hot weather continue to take us by surprise and many find it difficult to cope in the heat. Professionals at DocTap GP, think it is important to remember that the weather can pose a genuine threat to health, with those suffering from heatstroke often requiring urgent medical care. Forecasters predict that temperatures are set to soar again over the coming weeks so let's consider ways in which we can make the most of the beautiful summer sunshine whilst staying cool and safe.
Some groups are at greater risk and can come to more harm during hot weather, for example babies and young children, over 75's, those with certain medical conditions or on certain medications. It is important stay in touch with neighbours, friends and family who may live alone and to look out for the following signs of heat exhaustion;
- Fatigue and weakness,
- Increase in body temperature, and
- Muscle cramps.
Also, be aware that certain medicines need to be stored below 25 C so may need to be transferred to the fridge, whilst other medicines can also reduce tolerance to heat. Listening to weather forecasts can help plan ahead and ensure that you and those around you are protected.
Drinking sufficient water is important throughout the year but staying well hydrated is essential during the hot summer months. As the temperature rises, we perspire more and this results in an increase in our bodies' natural loss of water. The recommended daily intake of water is at least 8 glasses but individual requirements will differ. Exposure to sunshine, amount of exercise/energy exertion and levels of immunity and body functionality will all have an impact. For many, drinking a large quantity of water can seem a daunting task yet interestingly at least 20% of our hydration comes from eating solid food. Eating colourful and water rich foods can greatly enhance one's hydration. Foods such as cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, watermelon and spinach are all at least 90% water by weight and will form part of the recommended daily intake.
Balancing shade and sunshine
The hottest part of the day is between 11am and 3pm and the NHS suggest staying out of the sun during this time especially for those that are vulnerable to the effects of heat. If outside during these times, one should find shade and wear a cap or hat to protect them. However, some 'sunshine on skin' is beneficial - direct exposure to sunshine results in the formation of vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bone growth and for the health of the body's tissues and organs. Many of the UK population have minimal exposure to the sunshine and are therefore vitamin D deficient. As well as taking vitamin D supplements and eating foods fortified with vitamin D, it is advised to get outside in the sunshine for sensible periods to avoid diseases that are linked to vitamin D deficiency. The aim is to strike balance by getting enough vitamin D from sunshine whilst ensuring protection from the harmful effects of the sun.
Even on a cloudy day in the UK, there is a risk of getting sunburn especially when the sun is at its hottest. Sunburn increases the risk of getting skin cancer and so precautions must be taken to avoid this. Spending time in the shade and wearing suitable clothing can shield the sun's rays and applying a sunscreen will provide additional protection. When choosing a suitable sunscreen, the label should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 and protect against UVB and UVA rays. When using a previously opened sunscreen, it is important to check the expiration date as most creams expire after 2 to 3 years. Using sunscreen does not allow for additional time in the sun. It is essential that the correct amount of sunscreen is applied to ensure protection. The NHS suggest that an adult should apply approximately 2 teaspoons of sunscreen to the head, arms and neck and 2 tablespoons for the whole body, with regular reapplication throughout the day.
Getting a good night's sleep
Falling asleep during the hot weather can be problematic, resulting in reduced productivity in daily life. To enjoy the many activities available during the summer months, getting a good night's sleep is essential. Sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley notes that to have a good night's sleep, 'we need to lose between one and two degrees of body temperature'.
People find different methods can help them to achieve a good night's sleep. Keeping the blinds closed during the daytime can result in a reduced night time room temperature. As heat rises, many choose to sleep in the basement or on the ground floor where it is often much cooler. More unusual ways to overcome the heat at night, include sleeping on a freshly made bed with bedsheets that have been chilled in plastic bags in the freezer. You may also try sleeping in a pair of socks that have been in the freezer. Lowering the temperature of the feet lowers the temperature of your whole body - this can promote a good night's sleep as can sleeping with a frozen hot water bottle! Both are said to have a calming and cooling effect that will lower body temperature and assist with drifting off.