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Expat Safety Tips: Heatwaves

Most of us welcome hot weather but some places can be hit by heatwaves and endure a prolonged period of abnormally hot weather, which can pose serious health risks.

Heatwaves can often be anticipated and therefore it’s possible to prepare in advance but it’s important that expats and travellers are aware of the problems heatwaves can cause and how to cope with one if it hits unexpectedly.

What is a heatwave?

A heatwave is described as a period of excessively hot weather which is often accompanied by high humidity. The temperature when a heatwave occurs will vary depending on the country in which it occurs and it’s usually measured relative to the usual temperatures for the particular season. What is labelled as a heatwave in one country might just be a normal temperature in a country that has a hotter climate.

What problems can a heatwave cause?

Heatwaves and the problems they cause can often be underestimated. With everyone welcoming hot weather people usually overlook the risks that come with it until it’s too late.

The main risks that a heatwave can pose are dehydration, overheating, heat stroke and heat exhaustion. These symptoms can be mild but they can also be extremely serious. Overheating can be specifically dangerous for people that suffer from heart or breathing problems.

There are certain people that can be more affected when a heatwave occurs. The elderly are very vulnerable when it comes to the heat as are babies and young children.

Extreme heat can affect anyone but the following can be more susceptible to a heatwave:

  • people with a serious long term health condition
  • anyone with mobility problems
  • people on certain medications
  • people who misuse drugs or alcohol
  • people who are physically active day to day in jobs or sports
  • anyone with mental health problems

When might a heatwave occur?

A heatwave is most common during summer. It occurs when high pressure develops across an area and it can last a few days or sometimes even a few weeks. Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense as years go by due to climate change.

In the UK the Meteorological Office has a warning system that issues alerts if a heatwave is likely. There are four different levels when it comes to these alerts.

  • Level 1: be prepared – not a serious alert it’s just advised to keep your eyes peeled
  • Level 2: heatwave is forecast – stay tuned into the weather forecast and prepare to keep cool
  • Level 3: when a heatwave is happening – act as you would if there was a level 2 alert
  • Level 4: severe heatwave – this can affect anyone, follow any information given for a level 3 and keep a special eye on anyone who is in the categories stated earlier

How to cope with a heatwave

It’s important for expats and travellers to understand how to keep cool and cope with the hot weather during a heatwave as it can affect anyone at any time.

Here are a few tips:

  • drink water, even when you’re not thirsty
  • have a lukewarm bath or shower
  • keep windows and curtains closed during the day until the sun goes down and the temperature outside drops below the temperature inside
  • run your wrists under cold water
  • splash your face with cold water
  • turn off lights and any other electrical appliances when they’re not needed
  • stay out of the sun between 11 am and 3 pm
  • apply suncream and wear a hat if you want to or must be out in the heat
  • wear loose, light clothing and avoid dark colours as they absorb the heat
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