What to do during a heatwave

The advice below is evidence-based and provided from the National Heatwave Plan for England. You should also pay attention to the Met Office and national news during heatwave emergencies.

Following it will reduce your risk of illness during a heatwave, and help you feel more comfortable.

A mother wipes the forehead of a child with a wet cloth on a hot day

For advice on handling heat-related conditions, visit NHS.uk

Stay out of the heat:

  • keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm
  • if you have to go out in the heat, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a hat and light scarf
  • avoid extreme physical exertion (including brisk activity/exercise)
  • wear light, loose-fitting cotton clothes

Cool yourself down:

  • have plenty of cold drinks, and avoid excess alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks
  • eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high-water content
  • take a cool shower, bath or body wash
  • sprinkle water over the skin or clothing, or keep a damp cloth on the back of your neck

Keep your environment cool:

  • keeping your living space cool is especially important for infants, the elderly or those with chronic health conditions or who can’t look after themselves
  • place a thermometer in your main living room and bedroom to keep a check on the temperature
  • keep windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day, and open windows at night when the temperature has dropped
  • close curtains that receive morning or afternoon sun. However, care should be taken with metal blinds and dark curtains, as these can absorb heat – consider replacing or putting reflective material in-between them and the window space
  • turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment – they generate heat
  • keep indoor plants and bowls of water in the house as evaporation helps cool the air
  • if possible, move into a cooler room, especially for sleeping
  • electric fans may provide some relief, if temperatures are below 35°C. (see below for note on fans)

Look out for others:

  • keep an eye on isolated, elderly, ill or very young people and make sure they are able to keep cool
  • Tommy's provide useful additional advice for caring for babies during heatwaves
  • ensure that babies, children or elderly people are not left alone in stationary cars
  • check on elderly or sick neighbours, family or friends every day during a heatwave
  • be alert and call a doctor or social services if someone is unwell or further help is needed

If you have a health problem:

  • keep medicines below 25°C or in the refrigerator (read the storage instructions on the packaging)
  • check you know how to seek medical advice if you are suffering from a chronic medical condition or taking multiple medications and become unwell in the heat

If you or others feel unwell:

  • try to get help if you feel dizzy, weak, anxious or have intense thirst and headache; move to a cool place as soon as possible and measure your body temperature
  • drink some water or fruit juice to rehydrate
  • rest immediately in a cool place if you have painful muscular spasms (particularly in the legs, arms or abdomen, in many cases after sustained exercise during very hot weather), and drink oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes.
  • medical attention is needed if heat cramps last more than one hour
  • consult your doctor if you feel unusual symptoms or if symptoms persist

NHS.uk has simple advice on heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and dehydration.

Use of fans:

At temperatures above 35°C fans may not prevent heat related illness. Additionally, fans can cause excess dehydration. The advice is to place the fan at a certain distance from people, not aiming it directly on the body and to have regular drinks. This is especially important in the case of sick people confined to bed.

Preparing for future heatwaves

Our climate is already changing due to human-related CO2 emissions. The UK can expect more frequent and more intense heatwaves, so it is important that we all make preparations now.

You can download the 'Beat the Heat' checklist to check you have everything in place for a heatwave, and our Climate Adaptation page helps you think through changes you might need to make as our climate changes.