As a heatwave continues to move across the continent, some countries are warning that extreme temperatures could cause serious illness or even a risk to life.
With Ireland set to experience hotter weather over the coming days, Met Éireann issued an advisory which warns the public of highs of 31 degrees or more during a period of “uncomfortably” warm conditions.
Prof Rose Anne Kenny, professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin, said older people and people with chronic conditions were more vulnerable to extreme heat due to their inability to maintain their core body temperature.
“When things go awry and we get heatstroke, it’s because we have not managed to maintain that constant core body temperature,” she said.
“The reason why people when they get older are more vulnerable is because the skin, in particular, is not as good at managing to keep that core temperature stable. There are other physiological reasons in terms of our adaptability of heart rate and circulation, which aren’t as sharp as we get older.”
Being aware of personal and environmental factors that put an individual most at risk is an important step towards keeping well with unusually warm weather approaching the State.
According to Prof Kenny, the most important thing that people can do to look after themselves during the hot weather is to drink plenty of fluids.
“Unless you have heart failure or kidney failure, you should consume at least three litres of fluid a day,” she said.
“Alcohol is contraindicative because alcohol exacerbates the effect of heat. Some studies show that a lot of coffee also does, so try and avoid alcohol and avoid too much coffee.”
Stay cool and indoors
The hottest part of the day is generally between 11am and 3pm, and while it may not be possible to avoid going out entirely during that time, minimising your time outdoors is important.
For older people, in particular, keeping the home cool is also vital.
“That can be done by keeping it in darkness, closing shutters or curtains or blinds to cause a draught in the house by opening doors front and back, or windows. Whatever it takes to create a draught,” Prof Kenny said.
“Identify the coolest room in the house and use a fan in that room. They’re the environmental sort of things. And obviously wear cotton, wear minimum clothing.”
Protect your skin
Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, medical director of the Irish College for General Practitioners, said Irish people in particular must protect their fair skin due to the long-term risk of skin cancer.
“All skin cancers are rapidly rising in Ireland. It affects particularly people at the extremes of life so children, babies, and older or vulnerable people. The people who are particularly vulnerable are us Celtic people, and among the Celts it’s those with fair or red hair and green or blue eyes,” he said.
Tom O’Dowd, emeritus professor of general practice in Trinity College Dublin, and GP in west Dublin, said for those who choose to go outside during those peak times, protecting your skin is imperative.
“Sun cream, shade and clothing are all very important. We get roasted alive on the beach, because we tend to be really unprepared for the heat,” he said. “Sunburn is a real risk. There has to be a real determination to protect yourself. So sun cream, shade and putting on clothes like long trousers or long skirts.”
Don’t let the clouds fool you
And while temperatures are meant to be warm, cloud is forecast in some areas of the country. Dr Quinlan said even if it is overcast, sunburn and heat exposure can still occur.
“I remember once being on holidays and there was one cloudy day when it was really hot and sticky. I didn’t wear a shirt and I got burned that day, and it was cloudy,” he said.
“When it’s sunny it’s more obvious. But it can still happen in the cloud, you just forget about it.”
Look out for symptoms of heatstroke and heat exhaustion
And while prevention is key, being aware of symptoms of heatstroke is also important.
Mild heatstroke is generally identified by nausea, dizziness, exhaustion or cramps in your abdomen or limbs, according to the doctors.
If those symptoms occur, the individual should go to a cool environment and drink plenty of cool — not cold — fluids. And if symptoms don’t abate with that intervention, then consider contacting your general practitioner.