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Met Office heatwave alerts have been in force this week for parts of southern and eastern England, with other parts of the UK also experiencing unusually hot and humid conditions.

While most of us welcome hotter weather, it can pose some health risks, particularly for more vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those with existing medical conditions which could be exacerbated by hot weather, and the very young.

Just as with very cold weather, a heatwave needs to be treated with some caution, especially if you are in one of the "at risk" groups. With the hotter weather predicted to continue in some areas over the Bank Holiday weekend and into next week, it's a good time to look at some tips for coping with hot weather.

The main problems associated with a heatwave are dehydration, overheating, and heat exhaustion/heatstroke. Dehydration is simply not having enough water in your system and can be easily avoided by making sure you have plenty of water to drink. Overheating can worsen symptoms for people who already have breathing difficulties of heart problems.

The most serious conditions are heat exhaustion and heatstroke. The first is where you become very hot and start to lose water or salt from your body, which can lead to feeling dizzy, nauseous, very sweaty and thirsty and generally unwell. If heat exhaustion isn't spotted and treated it can lead to more serious heatstroke, where the body can no longer cool itself and your temperature becomes dangerously high, putting a strain on the heart and other vital organs.

Heatstroke is rare and both these conditions are more likely to affect people who are physically active in heatwave conditions, such as labourers or people doing sports activities. You may remember news stories of soldiers dying from heatstroke while undertaking tough training exercises during a heatwave?

As with all medical conditions, prevention is better than cure and there are plenty of simple things to do to make sure you stay safe and well in a heatwave. Listed below are some top tips from the NHS Choices website, which also has more detailed information on the groups most at risk during a heatwave:

·         Stay tuned to the local weather forecast for your area so you can plan ahead if a heatwave is likely.

·         If you're planning to travel, check the forecast for your destination and be prepared for the weather there.

·         If there's a heatwave where you live, close the windows and pull down the shades when it's hotter outside. You can open the windows for ventilation once it turns cooler outside.

·         Avoid the heat by staying out of the sun and not going out between 11am and 3pm – the hottest part of the day – if you're vulnerable to the effects of heat.

·         Keep rooms cool by using shades or reflective material outside the windows. If this isn't possible, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed (metallic blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter.

·         Have cool baths or showers, or splash yourself with cool water.

·         Drink cold drinks regularly, such as water and diluted fruit juice. Avoid excess alcohol, caffeine (tea, coffee and cola) or drinks high in sugar.

·         Plan ahead to make sure you have enough supplies, such as food, water and any medications you need.

·         Identify the coolest room in the house so you know where to go to keep cool.

·         Wear loose, cool clothing, and a hat and sunglasses if you go outdoors.

·         Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be less able to look after themselves.

For more information about keeping cool at home, click here for a useful "Beat the heat" checklist from Public Health England.

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