Skip to main content

Staying safe during a heatwave

Whilst some people look forward to the sunshine that summer brings, the heat can cause problems for some people, such as older people, young people or those with health concerns.

Please do keep an eye on friends, family and neighbours to make sure they are happy, healthy and have everything they need during a heatwave.

Extreme temperatures can be particularly dangerous for some people, and sustained hot weather like the heatwaves we have experienced in recent years can trigger health problems unless care is taken to keep cool.

Visit the NHS summer health pages or Met Office's heat health pages for more information about how to enjoy the sunshine without feeling unwell.

If you have concerns about an uncomfortably hot house that's affecting your health or someone else's, get medical advice.

We hope that people with concerns about the heat, carers and families, find this guide useful. Print this page to give to someone you know.

Extreme weather warnings

The Met Office may from time to time issue weather warnings, which warn of impacts caused by severe weather. These warnings are given a colour (yellow, amber or red). During times of heat warnings, do stay hydrated, look out for vulnerable people and watch out for heat exhaustion and heatstroke.    

Royal Voluntary Service will determine the need to suspend services in line with Local Authority advice.

What to expect during a red heat warning:

  • Population-wide adverse health effects experienced, not limited to those most vulnerable to extreme heat, leading to serious illness or danger to life.
  • Substantial changes in working practices and daily routines will be required.
  • High risk of failure of heat-sensitive systems and equipment, potentially leading to localised loss of power and other essential services, such as water or mobile phone services.
  • Delays on roads and road closures, along with delays and cancellations to rail and air travel, with significant welfare issues for those who experience even moderate delays.

What is the difference between heatstroke and heat exhaustion?    

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body's means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. It can affect anyone, including fit and healthy people, exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses and injuries. Prevention of heat stress in workers is important.

The signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • a headache
  • dizziness and confusion
  • loss of appetite and feeling sick
  • excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
  • cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
  • fast breathing or pulse
  • a high temperature of 38C or above
  • being very thirsty.

Heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke, which is an emergency. Get urgent medical help immediately.

The signs of heatstroke include:

  • feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
  • not sweating even while feeling too hot
  • a temperature of 40C or above
  • fast breathing or shortness of breath
  • feeling confused
  • a fit (seizure)
  • loss of consciousness
  • not responsive.       

If someone has heat exhaustion, follow these four steps:

  1. Move them to a cool place.
  2. Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.
  3. Get them to drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are OK.
  4. Cool their skin – spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are good, too.   

Stay with them until they're better. They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes. If they are still feeling unwell after 30 minutes call the emergency services.

How to keep cool…

It’s good to be prepared. Stay up to date with the weather forecast for what the temperature will be and make plans accordingly. Ask a family member, friend or neighbour to help you if you are unable to get out.

Follow some of these tips to make sure you keep cool and stay safe during a heatwave.

...At home

  • If possible, make sure you have stocked up on food and drinks before the hot weather arrives so you don’t need to go out in the day.
  • Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, which is typically between 11am and 3pm.
  • Keep cool by splashing yourself with water throughout the day, or even have a cold bath or shower.
  • Keep rooms in the house as cool as possible by closing blinds and curtains to keep the sun out and only open windows when it is cool enough outside to do so.
  • If possible, move into a cooler room, especially for sleeping.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol. Water, lower-fat milks and tea and coffee are good options.

…When out and about

  • Dress appropriately for the weather, wear airy, light clothing, preferably made of cotton.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing.
  • Use high-factor sun cream if you’re likely to be exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Where possible stay in the shade.
  • Take a bottle of water with you.
  • If you use a wheelchair take an umbrella or sunshade to protect you from exposure to direct sunlight.
  • If you can try to make journeys outside for shopping, gardening or walking the dog in the evenings when its cooler.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is important at any time of the year, but especially during hot weather. See our guide Hydrate, feel great for more information on staying hydrated.

The key is to drink regularly throughout the day (at least 6-8 mugs), drink plenty of fluids such as water, diluted squash and fruit juice to stay hydrated. If you're active, or if the weather is particularly hot, you should increase your fluid intake.

Here are some useful hints and tips to ensure you and your family stay hydrated during the hot weather:

  • If you have difficulty moving around (or you have pain) you may avoid getting up to get a drink, so make sure you ask someone to place plenty of water or other soft drinks within reach.
  • Water doesn’t have to come from a glass or bottle, lots of foods, including fruits and salads contain water to help you stay hydrated.
  • Offer people a drink and when you are out and about ask for a drink too, don’t wait to be offered.
  • Make drinks more exciting. Download this recipe card with these great mocktails and infused water.
  • Fill a bottle of water and carry it with you when you go out. One reason we don't drink enough fluids is because we don't have water (or a drink) with us. Keeping a bottle to hand will help keep you hydrated.
  • Always re-fill your glass or water bottle. You’re more likely to drink more if you see water in front of you rather than an empty glass.
  • Freeze little bits of lemon and lime or your favourite fruit and use these as ice cubes in your water for a refreshing summer time treat.
  • Use a chart to record daily the number of drinks you have. We’ve created this useful water chart for you to download which will help you to keep track.

For more information, see our guide on hydration.

Please exercise your common sense when considering this guide and whether to take any of the steps that may be suggested in it. Whilst we have taken reasonable care to ensure that any factual information is accurate and complete, most of the information in this guide is based on our views and opinions (and sometimes the views and opinions of the people or organisations we work with). As a result, we cannot make any promises about the accuracy or the completeness of the information and we don’t accept any responsibility for the results of your reliance on it.