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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 1°C
Alamy Stock Photo Covering up and going to the coast are two ways to keep cool.

'Move slowly, keep in the shade, don't sunbathe': How to stay cool (and safe) in the hot weather

Several days of hot weather can cause physical stress and illness.

THE OLD TRUISM says that Irish people start complaining that it’s too warm after a couple of days of sunshine.

While many are enjoying the current hot spell when the mercury starts rising, high temperatures can pose health risks.

Met Éireann was prompted to issue a weather advisory this week as daytime temperatures rise to 25-30 degrees celsius (with the possibility of 32 degrees predicted for Monday).

The meteorological service warned that vulnerable members of the population are susceptible to heat stress and the solar UV index is high, meaning people will get sunburn faster.

Meanwhile, on mainland Europe a scorching heatwave is fuelling wildfires across several countries and there are fears that thousands will die because of the sustained period of intense heat.

Ireland won’t quite experience the extreme weather that’s causing havoc on the continent but, for a range of reasons, extra care is needed once temperatures reach the mid-20s.

“We are conditioned to the low 20s as a culture and anything that one: goes above the mid 20s and two: lasts more than two days becomes stressful for our bodies,” Dr Mary Bourke, an expert in natural hazards from Trinity College Dublin’s geography department, explained.

“In particular, the warm nights – and so-called tropical nights where the temperature doesn’t go below 14 degrees – that stresses our bodies as well because we don’t get a good night’s sleep.”

Some people are particularly vulnerable to heat. People who have to take extra caution are those aged over 75, children under five, pregnant women and those with certain conditions, such as heart disease and obesity.

Dr Bourke, whose research focuses on the extremes, says the problems posed by overheating can arrive very suddenly, so people should stick to the shade if possible and carry water while out and about.

“I do my research in deserts and if you just wear a neckerchief, a little bandana around your neck, and it’s soaking wet, that will start to evaporate and it’s cooling,” she said.

“Move slowly, keep in the shade, do not sunbathe – you’re asking for trouble. A lot of people go to the coast, because of the onshore breeze and the cool waters. Go to lakes as well or into parks, they’re all cooler places naturally.”

The Irish Cancer Society is also warning that skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland. It’s advising people to try to go out earlier or later in the day, to cover up (with light clothes, hats and sunglasses) and to seek shade and use sunscreen.

Dr Bourke said she also found an effective tip for keeping houses cool on Tiktok, which involves applying tinfoil to the inside of windows using a soapy water spray, which reflects the heat out and keeps rooms cool.

@wrinkleandrose Tin foil hack! Foil your windows to reduce heat #heatwave #canadian #alberta #yeg #hotmom #momlife #momhack #fy #itworks #momtok #staycool #fypシ ♬ Heat Waves - Glass Animals

“Use a fan to get a breeze going. Block out those blinds, keep the curtains closed all day. don’t let any heat come in because it will stay in and it won’t go out quickly,” the researcher said.

The geomorphologist added that the hazards caused by heat will increase as temperatures continue to rise and as the population continues to age in the years ahead.

Public health expert Professor Anthony Staines said that climate change is driving a rise in heatwaves, and outlined the risks posed by sustained high temperatures.

“What’s happened in other parts of the world is people get a condition called heatstroke, and then they die. The last really big heat wave across Europe that was well studied was 2003 and they reckon that 70,000 people died,” he said.

“You get what are called ‘heat cramps’, which are painful and disabling but very easy to treat. You cool someone down, you give them liquid and they get better.

But if someone loses consciousness from heat, particularly if their skin is dry, they’re in severe trouble and they need health care.

“It seldom happens here; even in the low 30s is not an enormous risk but it’s not impossible either,” Staines added.

Here’s how to stay cool in the hot temperatures:

  • Keep curtains closed during the day to keep indoor spaces cooler.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and avoid too much alcohol.
  • Try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm, when the sun’s UV rays are strongest.
  • Try to stay in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Avoid physical activity in the hottest parts of the day.
  • Carry water when travelling.
  • Never leave young children or animals in a closed, parked vehicle.
  • Look out for people who may struggle to keep themselves cool and hydrated, particularly older people, those with underlying conditions and people who live alone.

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