Heatwaves – how to protect your health

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heat wave

RECENT HEAT-WAVES have caused serious health and social problems in the WHO European Region. These effects can be prevented. To protect your health when temperatures are extremely high, remember to keep cool and use common sense.
The following tips are important.

Drink plenty of fluids

During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait to drink until you are thirsty. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink 2–4 glasses of cool fluids per hour.

Warning: If your doctor usually limits the amount of fluid you drink or you take diuretics, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol, caffeine, or large amounts of sugar; they may actually cause your body to lose more fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

Replace salt and minerals

Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These must be replaced.
If you must exercise, drink 2–4 glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals lost in sweat. If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.

Wear appropriate clothing

Wear as little clothing as possible at home. Choose lightweight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing. Sunburn affects the body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin.

If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (which will also keep you cooler), along with sunglasses and protective but light clothing.

Schedule outdoor activities carefully

If you must be outdoors, try to limit your activity to morning and evening hours. Try to rest often in shady areas so that your body’s thermostat will have a chance to recover.

If you are not used to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and gradually increase the pace. Remember to drink before you get thirsty.

If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, stop all activity. Get into a cool area, or at least into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak or faint.

Stay cool indoors

Stay cool indoors, take frequent cool showers or a foot bath, or wet your hands, face and back of neck or use wet blankets. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home. Try to cool the home at night. If necessary, find a cooler place than your home and spend a few hours there.

Adjust to the environment

Be aware that any sudden change in temperature, such as an early summer heat-wave, will be stressful to your body. You will have a greater tolerance for heat if you limit your physical activity until you become accustomed to the heat. If you travel to a hotter climate, allow several days to adapt to local temperatures before attempting any vigorous exercise, and work up to it gradually.

Remember common sense

Limit sun exposure at mid-day and in places of potential severe exposure such as beaches. Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car.

Provide plenty of fresh water for pets, and leave water for them in a shady area.
Take care of those at risk

Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and watch them for signs of heat illness. Check on infants and young children much more often.

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