health

From dehydration to heart attacks – the 5 ways the heatwave could prove fatal


WHEN the UK sees a scorching summer day, people flock outside to make the most of it.

While it’s possible to enjoy the weather safely, there are public health warnings of heat-related illness in place.

If you can't cool down within 30 minutes of trying, it could be a medical emergency

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If you can’t cool down within 30 minutes of trying, it could be a medical emergencyCredit: Getty

People have been warned to take extra precaution for themselves and loved ones to avoid becoming sick.

Most of us don’t consider that the sunshine and warmth could be deadly if not taken seriously. 

Research shows that most people don’t see themselves as at risk from hot weather, even when they are, according to the British Heart Foundation.

But there are thousands of deaths from heat-related illnesses every year.

In summer 2020, there were 2,556 “excess deaths” during the three hottest periods, the highest ever recorded.

Most were in people over the age of 65 years old, as not everyone is at the same risk of hot temperatures.

Those who are older, have extra weight, poor general health or low fitness may struggle in the heat more.

Medications and conditions like heart disease and poor circulation can mean the body is less likely to sense the extreme change in temperature, and adjust properly. 

Babies are also at high risk because they have not fully developed their own heat regulation systems yet, and children, who generate more heat when moving.

Here are some dangerous health problems driven by the hot weather to be wary of:

Dehydration

With sweltering temperatures, it’s likely many of us aren’t drinking enough water to compensate.

Sweating on a hot day can cause us to lose water quickly, so we need to remember to replenish our stores.

The Eatwell Guide says we should drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day. Water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee, all count.

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But the NHS should this should be upped on hot weather days.

Warning signs of dehydration tend to start with a headache, thought to be linked to low blood pressure caused by water loss.

Difficulty concentration, low energy, constipation and a feeling of being unmotivated or tired are also symptoms..

If left untreated, severe dehydration can be serious and cause fits (seizures), brain damage and death.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Sometimes the body gets overheated and you can suffer heat exhaustion.

This is when the body loses water and salt through excessive sweating.

It does not tend to be serious if you can cool down within 30 minutes, by sitting or lying in the shade, with a fan if possible, cooling the skin with water and drinking plenty of water. 

But if the body does not cool down – and there are other warning signs – it could be heat stroke, which is an emergency.

You should call 999 if you or someone else feels unwell after sitting in a cool place after 30 minutes, not sweating, have a high temperature, breathing fast, feeling confused, fitting or has lost consciousness.

Heat stroke happens when the body’s core temperature increases, either through heat or exercise, and cannot regulate it anymore.

This puts pressure on organs that are having to work harder. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage the brain, heart and the kidneys as well as muscles. 

The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death, the Mayo Clinic warns. 

Heart attacks

Hot weather means your body has to work harder to keep its core temperature to normal levels, and this puts extra strain on your heart as well as other organs.

Very high heat can lower blood pressure, causing a person’s heart to beat faster and putting them at risk for a heart attack.

Research has shown that heart attacks are more common in the summer.

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One study of 27,000 heart attacks across Europe found more heat-related heart attacks have happened since 2000, when temperatures have reached new highs.

Another study of 30,000 patients in Michigan showed heart attack risk increased about five per cent for every 9°F (5°C). 

The British Heart Foundation warns those with heart failure and angina should take extra care in the summer heat.

A new chest discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack.

Asthma attack

Hot summer weather can trigger asthma symptoms for some of 5.4 million in the UK with the condition. 

Asthma UK says this might be because breathing hot air can cause the airways to narrow, causing shortness of breath.

There are also higher levels of pollutants and pollen in the air which can aggravate airways, while dust mites and mold thrive on humidity, too. 

The charity urges those with the condition to keep their reliever inhaler with them at all times and make use of their asthma action plan if symptoms get worse.

The NHS warns the weather – such as a change in temperature, heat, cold air and thunderstorms – can all trigger an asthma attack.

Three people die of an asthma attack every day.

It starts with symptoms of the conditioning worsening, making the person unable to speak, eat, sleep or generally breathe properly. 

Children may also complain of a tummy or chest ache.

It doesn’t always come on suddenly, but slowly over hours or days.

Read more about asthma attacks and how to prevent and deal with them swiftly by clicking here

Allergic reaction

A day in beautiful weather can quickly become dangerous if allergies are involved.

Insect stings from wasps and bees are harmless to the average person. But for some they can be deadly.

The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which is when the body goes into shock.

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There are also people who very rarely suffer with a skin condition called urticaria, triggered by sunlight as well as the cold, wind, water, food, medicine, sweat and plants.

The sun causes cells in the skin to release histamine, causing a rash within minutes, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.

In very rare cases it can become life threatening if swelling related to the rash impacts the throat, airways or digestive tract. 

How to stay safe in a heatwave – PHE tips

Public Healh England (PHE) has the following tips to follow during a heatwave:

  • look out for those who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated – older people, those with underlying conditions and those who live alone are particularly at risk
  • stay cool indoors: many of us may need to stay safe at home this summer so know how to keep your home cool
  • close curtains on rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler and remember it may be cooler outdoors than indoors
  • use cool spaces considerately if going outdoors, and wash your hands regularly
  • drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol
  • never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially infants, young children or animals
  • try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm, when the UV rays are strongest
  • walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat, if you have to go out in the heat
  • avoid physical exertion in the hottest parts of the day
  • make sure you take water with you, if you are travelling
  • take care and follow local safety advice if you are going into open water to cool down – during warm weather going for a swim can provide much welcomed relief
  • remember that while coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions are in place, you will need to follow any additional government guidance to use public spaces safely
When is the UK heatwave going to end?





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