Much of Britain was lucky enough this last weekend to have experienced a mini heatwave, the first of the year and a welcome change from the inclement weather of the previous months. The London Marathon is reported to have experienced the hottest temperatures in its history.
In a country that simply doesn’t see enough sunshine, people often find it hard to resist the urge to spend every waking hour out in the sun. Although this is a natural and understandable response, it can also be dangerous – especially with the extra risks exposure to hot weather carries. So what is the best way to stay safe in a heatwave? Here are some top tips.
1. Stay hydrated
The most important thing when enjoying hot weather is to stay hydrated – even of you do not feel thirsty. It is generally recommended that when active in hot weather, whether exercising or working, you should consume around 300- 500ml of water per hour. You should also drink plenty of water before and after any active period. It is also recommended to avoid drinks such as caffeine and alcohol, which encourage dehydration as they pull fluids from the body. Fruit juices and drinks can also cause problems as they are often high in carbohydrate and low in sodium – often resulting in an upset stomach. This in turn can further increase the risk of dehydration. If you prefer fruit flavoured drinks to plain water, it is recommended to use a dilution of no more than 50% fruit juice.
If you are doing strenuous activity, it is recommended to use an electrolyte preparation that will help to replace essential minerals such as sodium and potassium as they are lost, helping to ensure that a healthy balance is maintained.
Symptoms and Signs of Dehydration in Adults
- Increased thirst.
- Dry mouth.
- Tired or sleepy.
- Decreased urine output.
- Urine is low volume and more yellowish than normal.
- Dry skin.
2. Beware of overhydration
Believe it or not, just as it is possible to become dehydrated, it is also possible to become overhydrated – and this can have extremely dangerous consequences. Over-hydration, is scientifically referred to as hyponatremia and is the result of having low blood sodium levels. Although less commonly mentioned, it is actually one of the most common medical complications in long-distance training and racing – especially among less experienced runners who tend to consume too much water, often out of fear of dehydration. Symptoms of overhydration are very similar to dehydration, however the most important symptoms are:
— Muscle weakness
— Nausea and vomiting
Hyponatremia, if untreated, can progress to seizure, brain swelling, pulmonary edema (fluid buildup in the air sacs of the lungs), comatose, cardiorespiratory arrest, or death. It is very important therefore not to misdiagnose overhydration as dehydration.
3. Avoid Sunburn
Another serious risk when it comes to heatwaves is sunburn. As well as causing pain, discomfort and peeling skin, sunburn can also cause many other problems both long and short term. In particular, these include increased risk of developing skin problems in later life, such as ageing (wrinkling) and skin cancer. Extreme sunburn can cause fever, dizziness, headaches and nausea – all symptoms of heat exhaustion which may require hospital treatment.
To avoid sunburn, use plenty of sun cream and keep the skin covered as much as possible. Try to avoid spending prolonged periods of time in direct sunlight. Also, be aware that the conditions may mask the true intensity of the sunlight. For example, when in windy conditions you may not realise that your skin is burning as it does not feel so hot. Likewise, water, snow and sand reflect sunlight, increasing the risk of sunburn.
4. Beware of Heatstroke
Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating and may be the result of physical exertion in high temperatures or prolonged exposure. Heatstroke is a severe condition that can occur if your body temperature rises to 40 C or higher.
Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death. This means that emergency treatment is essential.
Symptoms of heatstroke
Heatstroke signs and symptoms include:
- High body temperature. A core body temperature of 40 C or higher
- Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures or coma
- Alteration in sweating. Skin will usually feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel dry or slightly moist.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Flushed skin.
- Rapid breathing.
- Racing heart rate.
If you believe that somebody is suffering from heatstroke, call a first aider or an ambulance immediately.