How to stay well in winter
Cold weather can worsen some health problems and even lead to serious complications, especially if you’re 65 or older or have a long-term health condition.
Who’s most at risk from cold weather?
Some people are more vulnerable to the effects of cold weather. This includes:
- people aged 65 and older
- babies and children under the age of 5
- people on a low income (so cannot afford to heat)
- people who have a long-term health condition
- people with a disability
- pregnant women
- people who have a mental health condition
Get advice if you feel unwell
If you’re 65 or over or in one of the other at-risk groups, it’s important to get medical help as soon as you feel unwell.
You can get help and advice from:
- a pharmacy – pharmacists can give treatment advice for a range of minor illnesses and can tell you if you need to see a doctor
- your doctor – you may be able to speak to a doctor online or over the phone or go in for an appointment if they think you need to
- call 911 if you have an urgent medical problem and you are not sure what to do
The sooner you get advice, the sooner you’ll likely get better.
Get your coronavirus (COVID-19) booster and flu vaccinations
If you’re at greater risk from COVID-19 and flu, getting extra vaccination protection in winter is important.
For most people, flu is unpleasant, but it can be dangerous and even life-threatening for some. COVID-19 is also still making people very ill every day.
Both vaccines are safe and effective and are the best protection from these viruses. It’s important to get both vaccines if you’re invited.
You need to have the flu vaccine every year because the viruses that cause the flu change every year.
Your immunity from the COVID-19 vaccine also reduces over time. This is why those at greater risk are invited to get a booster.
The best time to have the flu vaccine is in the autumn before the flu starts spreading. But you can get the vaccine later.
If you’re eligible, getting these vaccinations ahead of winter when viruses circulate most and can cause the most harm is important.
Keep warm and get help with heating
Keeping warm over the winter can help prevent colds, flu, and more serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia, and depression.
Heat your home to a temperature that’s comfortable for you. If you can, this should be at least 18°C in the rooms you regularly use, such as your living room and bedroom. This is particularly important if you have a health condition.
It’s best to keep your bedroom windows closed at night.
Make sure your home is fire safe. For fire safety advice specific to you and your home, visit the online home fire safety check website to complete a safety check for your home.
Look in on vulnerable neighbors and relatives
Remember that other people, such as older neighbors, friends, and family members, may need extra help over the winter. There’s a lot you can do to help people who need support.
Icy pavements and roads can be slippery, and cold weather can stop people from going out.
Keep in touch with your friends, neighbors, and family and ask if they need practical help or feel unwell.
Ensure they’re stocked with enough food supplies for a few days in case they cannot go out.
If they need to go out in the cold, encourage them to wear shoes with a good grip and a scarf around the mouth to protect them from cold air and reduce their risk of chest infections.
Ensure they get any prescription medicines before the holiday starts and if bad weather is forecast.
Sunscreen and sun safety
Advice for adults and children on sunscreen and sun safety in the UK and abroad.
Sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer. Sunburn does not just happen on holiday. You can burn in the UK, even when it’s cloudy.
There’s no safe or healthy way to get a tan. A tan does not protect your skin from the sun’s harmful effects.
Aim to balance protecting yourself from the sun and getting enough vitamin D from sunlight.
Sun safety tips
Spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest. This is between 11 am and 3pm from March to October.
Make sure you:
- spend time in the shade between 11 am and 3 pm
- never burn
- cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses
- take extra care with children
- use at least factor 30 sunscreen
What factor sunscreen (SPF) should I use?
Do not rely on sunscreen alone to protect yourself from the sun. Wear suitable clothing and spend time in the shade when the sun’s hot.
When buying sunscreen, the label should have the following:
- a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to protect against UVB
- at least 4-star UVA protection
UVA protection can also be indicated by the letters “UVA” in a circle, which indicates that it meets the safety standards.
Make sure the sunscreen is not past its expiry date.
Do not spend any longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen.
What are the SPF and star ratings?
The sun protection factor, or SPF, measures the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection.
SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 to 50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with 50+ offering the strongest form of UVB protection.
The star rating measures the amount of ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) protection. You should see a rating of up to 5 stars on sunscreens. The higher the star rating, the better.
The letter “UVA” inside a circle is a European marking. This means the UVA protection is at least a third of the SPF value and meets EU recommendations.
Sunscreens that offer both UVA and UVB protection are sometimes called broad spectrum.
How to apply sunscreen
Most people do not apply enough sunscreen.
As a guide, adults should aim to apply around 6 to 8 teaspoons of sunscreen if they cover their entire body.
If sunscreen is applied too thinly, the amount of protection it gives is reduced.
If you’re worried you might not apply enough SPF30, use sunscreen with a higher SPF.
If you plan to be out in the sun long enough to risk burning, sunscreen needs to be applied twice:
- 30 minutes before going out
- just before going out
Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin, including the face, neck, ears, and head, if you have thin or no hair, but a wide-brimmed hat is better.
Sunscreen needs to be reapplied liberally and frequently, and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
This includes applying it straight after being in the water, even if it’s “water resistant,” and after towel drying, sweating, or when it may have rubbed off.
Relying upon sunscreen every 2 hours is also recommended, as the sun can dry it off your skin.
Swimming and sunscreen
Water washes sunscreen off, and the cooling effect of the water can make you think you’re not getting burned. Water also reflects ultraviolet (UV) rays, increasing your exposure.
Use a water-resistant sunscreen if you’ll likely sweat or have contact with water.
Sunscreen should be reapplied straight after being in the water, even if it’s “water resistant,” and after towel drying, sweating, or when it may have rubbed off.
Children and sun protection
Take extra care to protect babies and children. Their skin is much more sensitive than adult skin, and damage caused by repeated exposure to sunlight could lead to skin cancer developing in later life.
Children aged under 6 months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight.
From March to October, children should:
- cover up with suitable clothing
- spend time in the shade, particularly from 11 am to 3 pm
- wear at least SPF30 sunscreen
Apply sunscreen to areas not protected by clothing, such as the face, ears, feet, and backs of hands.
All children under 5 are advised to take vitamin D supplements to ensure they get enough vitamin D.
Protect your eyes in the sun
A day at the beach without proper eye protection can cause a temporary but painful burn to the surface of the eye, similar to a sunburn.
Reflected sunlight from snow, sand, concrete, and water, and artificial light from sunbeds, is particularly dangerous.
Avoid looking directly at the sun, which can cause permanent eye damage.
Clothing and sunglasses
Wear clothes and sunglasses that provide sun protection, such as:
- a wide-brimmed hat that shades the face, neck, and ears
- a long-sleeved top
- trousers or long skirts in close-weave fabrics that do not allow sunlight through
- sunglasses with wraparound lenses or wide arms with the CE Mark and British Standard Mark 12312-1:2013 E
How to deal with sunburn
Sponge sore skin with cool water, then apply soothing aftersun cream or spray, like aloe vera.
Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, will ease the pain by helping to reduce inflammation caused by sunburn.
Stay out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.
Seek medical help if you feel unwell or the skin swells badly, or if you have blisters. Stay out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
Heat exhaustion does not usually need emergency medical help if you can cool down within 30 minutes. If it turns into a heatstroke, it must be treated as an emergency.
Check for signs of heat exhaustion
The signs of heat exhaustion include:
- feeling sick or being sick
- excessive sweating and skin becoming pale and clammy or getting a heat rash, but a change in skin color can be harder to see on brown and black skin
- cramps in the arms, legs, and stomach
- fast breathing or heartbeat
- a high temperature
- being very thirsty
The symptoms of heat exhaustion are often the same in adults and children, although children may become irritable too.
If someone shows signs of heat exhaustion, they must be cooled down and given fluids.
Things you can do to cool someone down
If someone has heat exhaustion, follow these 4 steps:
- Move them to a cool place.
- Remove all unnecessary clothing like a jacket or socks.
- Get them to drink a sports or rehydration drink or cool water.
- Cool their skin – spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs, wrapped in a cloth and put under the armpits or on the neck, are good too.
Stay with them until they’re better. They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes.
Preventing heat exhaustion and heatstroke
There’s a high risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke during hot weather or exercise.
To help prevent heat exhaustion or heatstroke:
- drink more cold drinks, especially if you’re active or exercising
- wear light-colored, loose clothing
- avoid the sun between 11 am and 3 pm
- avoid excess alcohol
- avoid extreme exercise
- if you’re inside on a very hot day, close curtains, close windows if it’s hotter outside than in your home, and turn off electrical equipment and lights that get hot
This will also prevent dehydration and help your body keep itself cool.
Children, older people, and people with long-term health conditions (such as diabetes or heart problems) are more at risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Who should take extra care in the sun?
You should take extra care in the sun if you:
- have pale, white, or light brown skin
- have freckles or red or fair hair
- tend to burn rather than tan
- have many moles
- have skin problems relating to a medical condition
- are only exposed to intense sun occasionally (for example, while on holiday)
- are in a hot country where the sun is particularly intense
- have a family history of skin cancer
People who spend a lot of time in the sun, whether it’s for work or play, are at increased risk of skin cancer if they do not take the right precautions.
If you have naturally brown or black skin, you are less likely to get skin cancer, as darker skin has some protection against UV rays. You may also need more time in sunlight to produce the same amount of vitamin D as people with lighter skin.
But you should still avoid burning and take care in the sun as people of all skin tones can get skin cancer.
Protect your moles
If you have lots of moles or freckles, your risk of getting skin cancer is higher than average, so take extra care.
Avoid getting caught out by sunburn. Use shade, clothing, and sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to protect yourself.
Keep an eye out for changes to your skin. Changes to check for include:
- a new mole, growth, or lump
- any moles, freckles, or patches of skin that change in size, shape or color
Report these to your doctor as soon as possible. Skin cancer is much easier to treat if it’s found early.
The Association of Dermatologists advises that people should not use sunbeds or sunlamps.
Sunbeds and lamps can be more dangerous than natural sunlight because they use a concentrated source of UV radiation.
Health risks linked to sunbeds and other UV tanning equipment include:
- skin cancer
- premature skin aging
- sunburnt skin
- eye irritation
It’s illegal for people in the UK under the age of 18 to use sunbeds, including in tanning salons, beauty salons, leisure centers, gyms, and hotels.