Tips for self-care during a heatwave

Warm weather in Australia is frequently a reason to enjoy your nearby swimming destination or engage in some playful sprinkler activity. Nevertheless, the prolonged and escalating temperatures associated with a heatwave can contribute to health issues, notably heatstroke.

In the period spanning from 2012 to 2022, intense heat emerged as the primary culprit for weather-related injuries and hospitalizations across Australia.

Understanding this heat-induced ailment and adopting safety measures during a heatwave is crucial. Here’s a breakdown of what you should be aware of concerning heat-related illnesses and guidelines on ensuring your safety in a heatwave.

Why is heatstroke a serious condition?

Elevated temperatures can trigger heatstroke, a critical condition where an individual loses the ability to regulate their body temperature.

Untreated, heatstroke can result in severe complications, including organ failure, brain damage, and even death.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, heatstroke qualifies as a medical emergency. In case of symptoms, promptly dial triple zero (000) and request an ambulance for immediate assistance.

What are the symptoms of heatstroke?

Indications of heatstroke encompass:

  1. Rapid escalation in body temperature (exceeding 40°C).
  2. Skin appearing red, hot, and dry due to halted sweating (although sweating may persist if the person was recently engaged in physical activity).
  3. Profound thirst.
  4. Swift pulse and accelerated, shallow breathing.
  5. Nausea and vomiting.
  6. Unusual or aggressive behavior, confusion, diminished coordination, or slurred speech.
  7. Loss of consciousness, seizures, or entering a state of coma.

Who’s most at risk during a heatwave?

While some individuals may simply feel discomfort and opt for ice cream during heatwaves, the elevated temperatures can pose serious health risks for others.

Normally, the body regulates its temperature through sweating. In intense heat, the body works harder to produce sweat. However, if a person is dehydrated or unable to produce sufficient sweat, their body temperature can quickly rise.

Certain individuals are more susceptible to heat-related issues, including heatstroke. Examples include:

  • People aged over 65
  • Babies and young children
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding females
  • Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and mental illness
  • Overweight or obese individuals
  • Those taking specific prescription medications (consult your GP about this)
  • Socially isolated or homeless individuals

For those in the identified groups:

  • Keep your body cool
  • Maintain a cool home by closing windows, shutting curtains, using air-conditioning, or electric fans
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Seek assistance from friends or relatives if needed

If you’re not personally at risk, consider helping others:

  • Check on vulnerable friends, family, and neighbors
  • Keep children cool and adequately hydrated
  • Ensure pets have access to water and shade
  • Never leave infants, children, or pets unattended in a hot car.

How to keep cool during a heatwave

  1. Ensure ample hydration by drinking plenty of water. Monitor urine color – pale indicates sufficient intake, while dark yellow signals the need for more fluids.
  2. Steer clear of alcohol, tea, and coffee, as they can exacerbate dehydration.
  3. During exceptionally hot days, avoid outdoor activities between 11 am and 5 pm.
  4. Implement cooling techniques at home such as applying wet towels or cool packs on your arms or neck, dipping your feet in cool water, and taking cool showers or baths.
  5. If lacking air-conditioning, seek refuge in cool places like libraries, shopping centers, or cinemas.
  6. Spend time in the coolest room at home, often found on the ground floor facing south.
  7. Minimize the use of stoves and ovens to reduce indoor heat.
  8. When venturing outdoors, protect yourself from the sun.
  9. Stay informed by keeping an eye on the weather forecast for necessary precautions.

Where to find assistance:

  1. In case of severe illness, reach out to your doctor or visit the nearest hospital emergency department.
  2. If your symptoms appear serious, dial triple zero (000) for immediate ambulance assistance.
  3. Access health advice by calling healthdirect at 1800 022 222, connecting with a registered nurse 24/7. (In Victoria, it’s known as NURSE-ON-CALL.) You can also utilize the healthdirect Symptom Checker.
  4. Explore guidance on caring for infants in hot weather.
  5. Educate yourself about various heat-related ailments such as dehydration, heat rash, and heat exhaustion.

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