We live in a sunburnt country where hot days and heatwaves can stress our bodies. Here’s how to stay cool and hydrated.

Heatwaves have killed more Australians than all other natural hazards combined. There were 430 deaths during the severe heatwaves in south eastern Australia in 2009 when Melbourne sweltered through 3 consecutive days at or above 43°C in late January.

We continue to experience extreme heat. On 4 January 2020, metropolitan Sydney experienced an all-time high, with Penrith reaching 48.9°C. The year 2019 was Australia’s hottest on record, with temperature records broken in many towns and cities.

With hot summers likely to continue, it’s important that we all know how to prepare for high temperature days and how to provide first aid for heat-induced conditions.

Who is most at risk from hot weather?

While most people find extremely hot weather and heatwaves uncomfortable, some people have a higher risk than others of becoming ill. These include:

  • elderly people aged over 75 years, babies and young children
  • people with long-term health conditions, for example heart or respiratory disease, diabetes or circulatory diseases
  • people who are obese
  • people taking certain medicines
  • people who are socially isolated
  • people who work outdoors or in hot and poorly ventilated areas and those engaging in vigorous physical activity in hot weather
  • people who are not acclimatised to the heat, for example overseas visitors.

Tips to help you stay well during hot weather

Drink plenty of water

One of the best ways to avoid heat-related illness is to drink plenty of water. It’s important to keep drinking water even if you don’t feel thirsty, because this can prevent you from becoming dehydrated.

Avoid alcoholic, hot or sugary drinks (including tea and coffee) because these can make dehydration worse.

Keep your body cool

Keeping as cool as possible can also help you prevent heat-related illness. Make sure you stay out of the sun. Drinking cold drinks and eating smaller, cold meals, such as salads and fruit, can also help you to keep cool.

Other things to do include wearing light-coloured and loose-fitting clothes made from natural fibres such as cotton, and taking cool showers or baths.

Keep your house cool

You can help keep your house cool by shutting curtains and blinds during the day. If you don’t have air-conditioning, go to a cool place such as a library, shopping centre, cinema or swimming pool. Stay in the coolest room in the house and use the stove and oven as little as possible.

Take care of others

Visit or call elderly friends, neighbours or relatives at least once a day. Check they have water in the fridge and encourage them to drink it. You may like to take them to a shopping centre, library or cinema with air-conditioning.

Children also need to be reminded to drink water, and babies, children or animals should never be left alone in a car, even if the air-conditioner is on. Ensure animals have water and plenty of shade if they are outside.

Have a plan

Keep an eye on the weather forecast and know who to call if you need help. Ask your doctor if you have any health conditions that mean you are at greater risk of heat-related illness, and what you need to do about them to keep well in the heat.

If you are unwell, contact your doctor or go to the nearest hospital emergency department. If you think your symptoms are serious, call for an ambulance immediately on 000. See the sections below for when you may need to seek medical help.

Keep your food safe

Make sure food that needs refrigeration is properly stored, and defrost foods in the fridge, not on the kitchen bench.

Stay safe in the sun

If you need to go outside in the sun, it’s important to protect you and your children’s skin. If you avoid sunburn, you reduce the risk of skin cancer which is one of the most common cancer types in Australia.