- What defines a heatwave?
- Who is vulnerable to the affects of a heatwave?
- Ways you can prepare for a heatwave
- Things you can do to prevent heat related illness
- Signs and symptoms of heat illness
- First aid
- Further reading and information
A heatwave can be defined as a prolonged period of excessive heat. In Australia excessive heat can vary from 37°C to 42°C.
A heatwave occurs when there are a number of consecutive days with above average temperature, often combined with high humidity.
This unusual and uncomfortable hot weather can impact on human and animal health and cause disruption to community infrastructure such as power supply, public transport and services.
Although everyone is vulnerable to the affects of a heatwave, those most at risk are:
- Babies And Children under four years;
- Seniors and older people living alone;
- Pregnant women, breast feeding mothers and infants;
- People taking medications that may interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature,
- Anyone with:
- a chronic or mental illness;
- health conditions that may impair sweating;
- limited or poor mobility; and
- excess body weight (overweight).
- People who undertake vigorous exercise during a heatwave (including animals) are also susceptible to its effects.
Job factors – home and the workplace
Whether you are at home or in the workplace, heat related illness can be caused through a combination of job factors; such as:
- The level of your exertion and inadequate rest periods;
- Environmental factors such as humidity and radiant heat; and
- Worker factors such as hydration and inappropriate clothing.
During periods of prolonged hot weather the Queensland Ambulance Service paramedics see an increase in emergency calls from people suffering heat related illnesses. Whilst the very young and the elderly are most at risk, anyone can be affected.
Heat related illness occurs when body temperature increases through absorbing more heat than can be dispelled. This may develop slowly over a day or two of very hot weather. Prompt action can avoid the serious, or even fatal, consequences of fully developed heat stroke.
- In a severe heatwave you may get dehydrated and your body may overheat, leading to a heat related illness.
- A heat related illness can result in irreversible damage to your body, including the brain, or even death.
- A heat related illness can develop if heat exhaustion is left untreated, but it can also occur suddenly and without warning.
Seek medical advice if you are concerned for your or another’s well-being.
- Check with your doctor to ensure any existing medical conditions are as controlled as possible.
- Plan ahead to reduce the risk of getting heat exhaustion or a heat related illness.
- Look at alternatives to help to cool your home or building. For example, install awnings, shade cloth or internal blinds or curtains on the sides of the building which face the sun.
- Have your air conditioner serviced (if you have one).
- Prepare for a power failure:
- Plan for what you would do if a heatwave caused failure of electricity supply or disrupted public transport.
- If a power failure does occur, ensure you have a torch, fully-charged telephone or mobile phone, battery operated radio and spare batteries.
- Listen to your local weather forecast so you know if a heatwave is on the way.
Things you can do to prevent heat related illness
Whilst most people are potentially at risk of experiencing discomfort during extremely hot weather; babies and children under four years, seniors, older people living alone and people with a chronic condition or illness are considered to be most susceptible to the effects of a heatwave.
Look after yourself and help friends, relatives and neighbours, particularly the elderly or people with disabilities and pass on warnings, checking their meanings are understood.
Drink water regularly
- DRINK 2 to 3 litres of water a day at regular intervals, even if you do not feel thirsty.
Sports drinks do not replace water. If your fluid intake is limited on medical advice then check with your Doctor on how much you should drink during hot weather.
- DO NOT have alcoholic or carbonated soft drinks and avoid tea and coffee as they worsen dehydration.
- Eat as you normally would but do try to EAT COLD FOODS, particularly salads and fruit which contain water.
- AVOID heavy protein foods (e.g. meat, dairy products, etc) which raise body heat and increase fluid loss.
Keep out of the heat
- Plan your day to keep activity to a minimum during the hottest part of the day.
- If you must go out then wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose, porous clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen and regularly rest in the shade and drink fluids.
- If you can; avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11am – 3pm).
- AVOID strenuous activities and gardening.
- Do NOT leave children, adults or animals in parked cars.
- Wear appropriate clothing to suit the hot weather.
- Stay inside, in the coolest rooms in your home, as much as possible.
- Block out the sun during the day by closing curtains and blinds and keep windows closed while the room is cooler than it is outside.
- Open up windows and doors when there is a cool breeze, when the temperature inside rises and at night for ventilation.
- Use fans and air-conditioners at home to keep cool; or spend time in an air-conditioned library, community centre, shopping centre or cinema.
- Take frequent cool showers or baths and splash yourself several times a day with cold water, particularly your face and the back of your neck.
Monitor animals and pets for heat stress
Animals and Pets can be affected by heat related illness and anyone in charge of an animal, livestock or a pet has a duty of care to provide food, water and appropriate shelter for the animal.
|*||Heat stroke can affect a person engaging in physical activity who has not been identified as suffering from heat exhaustion and who has persisted in further activity. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can still occur where there has been good hydration.|
What you can do to assist anyone needing first aid:
- In an EMERGENCY, telephone triple zero (000) and get paramedics on the way immediately.
- Seek MEDICAL ADVICE from your usual doctor, hospital or health clinic.
- Sit or lay the patient in a cool spot in the shade or under cover.
- Remove as much of the patient’s clothing as possible and loosen tight clothing.
- Cover them with a sheet soaked with tap water (NOT iced water).
- Use fans or air conditioning to aid the cooling down process.
- Give the patient water to drink, if they can swallow.
- If the patient becomes unconscious then position them on their side.
Last Updated 18 December 2011