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Protecting yourself during a heatwave

If people feel unwell, breathless or feel their heart pounding while exerting or working in the heat, they should stop, get in the shade or a cool place, and rest.

If people feel unwell, breathless or feel their heart pounding while exerting or working in the heat, they should stop, get in the shade or a cool place, and rest.

As summer sets in, the temperatures increase, leading to health effects. Heat-related illness can affect anyone, but some people are at a greater risk than others.

These include the extremes of age groups, including babies and children aged up to four, and older people, especially those aged over 65 who suffer from chronic conditions such as heart and lung problems, high blood pressure, liver and kidney diseases, those who are overweight or obese and those who suffer from mental health.

People on medication, such as hypertension, heart failure, anti-depressants and certain antibiotics, are also more at risk from the effect of heat, as are those who have mobility problems and those confined to bed. Heat effects  on people who drink alcohol regularly or abuse of drugs are exacerbated.

In order to minimise the health hazards during a heatwave one should take the necessary precautions. It is important to listen to the weather forecast so that one can plan if a heatwave is on the way.

Staying hydrated is essential during the whole year, especially during the hot summer months. The best drink is to have water and do not wait until you feel thirsty in order to drink. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea or large amounts of sugar in your drink. Apart from this, it is important to eat well-balanced, light and regular meals. Eat more cold food, like salads and fruit, which contain water.

The best drink is water. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea or large amounts of sugar in your drink

Wearing appropriate clothing during hot summer months helps dissipate heat. Choose loose-fitting, lightweight, light-coloured clothes that cover as much skin as possible, and when going outdoors wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

The hottest part of the day is between 11am and 4pm, so between these times it is best to remain indoors whenever possible. When staying inside, choose the coolest rooms of your home, preferably on the lowest floor if no air-conditioning is available. Keep the windows closed when the room is cooler than the outdoors, and take the opportunity to cool the house during the night by opening the windows.

Curtains in rooms that get a lot of sun have a protective effect. It is also recommended to avoid using the stove and oven as these raise the temperature of the kitchen and adjacent rooms. Take cool showers and baths, and wet your hands, face and the back of your neck frequently.

Physical activity is important to stay healthy but it is advisable that strenuous activities be kept for the coolest time of day, like early morning.

If people feel unwell, breathless or feel their heart pounding while exerting or working in the heat, they should stop, get in the shade or a cool place, and rest.

It is also important to take care of others, especially vulnerable people, and one should check on family, friends, neighbours and the elderly who usually live alone and do not have air-conditioning. The tempera­ture inside a car can increase by 20 degrees Celsius in just 10 minutes and 40 degrees in an hour. Many believe that leaving the windows open will help dissipate heat. However, this does not prevent the tempera­ture from rising to a dangerous level.

Leaving children in a car is very dangerous and can lead to death. A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s body. In addition, children have a lot of body surface area that absorbs heat and their bodies have not yet developed the ability to cool down well. Hence, they are more vulnerable to heat effects. Never leave children or pets alone in a parked car.

People must seek help if they feel any symptoms of heat, such as cramps in their arms, legs or stomach, feeling of weakness, problems sleeping or feelings of mild confusion or light-headedness. It is advised to rest, stay in a cool place and drink water. If these symptoms persist or get worse, seek medical advice.

Dr Charmaine Gauci is Superintendent of Public Health.

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