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14.02.20

Heatwave: an overview and advice on how to cope in hot weather

General practice

What is a heatwave and how does it affect your health?

A heatwave is a period of excessively hot weather when temperatures are above 33°C and do not drop below 20°C overnight. This weather poses a serious risk to health and rising temperatures are particularly dangerous for vulnerable people, especially the elderly, pregnant women, young children and people with chronic health conditions. Hot weather disrupts the body's thermoregulation and places a strain on cardiovascular and respiratory systems. There is also an increased risk of dehydration.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

Heat stroke is defined as a core body temperature of more than 40°C with central nervous system impairment, such as loss of consciousness. You may experience various symptoms, including:

-             rapid heart rate

-             tiredness

-             headaches

-             muscle cramps

-             nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea              

What can you do to stay healthy during a heatwave?

Stay hydrated

During hot weather, it is important to drink at least two litres a day to stay hydrated. Try to drink water rather than sugary drinks. Elderly people may also experience low blood sodium levels, known as hyponatraemia, and this adds to the risk of dehydration. Increasing fluid intake while eating low-salt foods may make the imbalance between salt and water in the body worse and cause sodium levels to drop even further. As a result, it is not enough to just drink more during hot weather; you also need to adjust your diet by increasing your daily intake of salt a little. If you take any diuretic treatment, you should talk to your doctor about whether you might be able to stop this medication.

Wet your skin

You must make sure that you keep cool and wet your skin, including your face and forearms, several times a day. However, do not be tempted to have a very cold shower in the evening after a busy day. The cold water may feel refreshing, but the body actually sees this as an attack and will fight to keep its temperature at 37°C, inducing a risk of thermal shock (caused by the difference between your body temperature and the cold water).

Stay cool

Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. Instead, try to find cool places (with air conditioning) if you can, such as the cinema, library or a museum. Try to keep where you live as cool as possible, by closing any windows as well as curtains and/or blinds during the day and opening them in the evening and at night if the temperature drops.

Although it is tempting, do not sleep with a fan pointed directly towards you as it causes rapid air movement and can therefore dry out your sinuses, throat, skin and eyes. Instead, turn the fan away from your face and place a bowl of water or a damp cloth in front of it before going to bed in order to help humidify your bedroom.

Protect your skin

You do not have to be on the beach to be exposed to harmful UV rays. This applies especially to babies and young children. To shield your skin, try to cover up with thick, dark clothing, such as long-sleeved t-shirts, or even UV-protective clothing. A hat and sunglasses are also an absolute must during a heatwave.

Be very careful about common misconceptions on how to stay safe in the sun! For example, wearing a white T-shirt in the sea or a swimming pool is useless because it lets UV rays through. Staying under parasols and in the shade only blocks 50% of harmful UV rays and does not offer complete protection.

Keep in regular contact with your friends and family

Regularly update your loved ones and ask for help if you need it. Think about any elderly people around you, who may forget to stay hydrated, and remind them to drink enough. If someone is seriously ill and their life is at risk, please call the emergency number 144 immediately.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, please contact your primary care physician as soon as possible. Fast-track care at the emergency department at Hôpital de La Tour is available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for non-life-threatening emergencies, so that you can get the diagnosis and treatment you need quickly. We also provide 24/7 emergency care for critical cases.