Healthy living

Health effects of heat – who is most at risk?

Some people are more vulnerable in the hot weather and need to take extra care of their health to prevent heat related illnesses such as heat stress.

Learn about what you can do to keep cool in the heat.

Babies and young children

Babies and young children are very sensitive to high temperatures and can get heat stress quickly. They may not show the early signs and symptoms that occur in adults, they may just look unwell or be more irritable than usual.

It is very important to watch babies and young children closely to keep them from getting dehydrated or overheated.

Babies may also:

  • seem floppy
  • have drier skin
  • refuse to drink
  • have fewer wet nappies than usual
  • have a lower (sunken) soft spot (fontanelle) on the top of their head.

Feeding

  • During hot weather, breast fed babies (including expressed breast milk fed) may need extra breast milk feeds.
  • Bottle (formula) fed babies may need small amounts of cool boiled water in between feeds. This also applies to older babies, especially if the baby is having other foods.

Sleeping

  • Choose the coolest place in the house.
  • Make sure the air can circulate around the bassinette or cot (remove any liners or padding).
  • If you use a fan, do not point it towards your baby but use it to circulate air around the room.
  • If you use an air-conditioner, make sure the room does not get too cold (about 24 °C to 26 °C is low enough)
  • Don’t leave babies to sleep in a pram.

Travelling in cars

Your car can heat up to a dangerous temperature very quickly:

  • avoid travelling in hot weather; if you have to travel, go early in the day
  • never leave your baby or child alone in a car, even if the air-conditioner is on
  • make sure the sun is not shining directly on your baby or child
  • consider using a window shield to protect your baby from the sun
  • never cover a baby capsule in a car with a rug or towel to shade your baby from the sun.
Older children and teenagers

Older children and teenagers are more at risk of heat stress than adults because:

  • they are generally smaller and weigh less than adults
  • they absorb heat more rapidly in hot weather
  • when active, they produce more heat
  • they sweat less, and cannot lose heat as rapidly
  • they can lose body fluid quickly.

You can reduce your child’s risk of experiencing heat stress by making sure they drink plenty of fluids, limit outdoor activities and wear protective clothing when outside.

Pregnant women

During pregnancy, a woman's body temperature is higher and more sensitive to heat in hot weather.

All the usual tips on keeping cool apply.

Older people

If you are an older person, you are more at risk of experiencing heat stress, especially if you:

  • live alone
  • have medical conditions
  • take certain medications.

Your ability to care for yourself safely in hot weather can also be affected by:

  • being frail
  • being unable to move easily without assistance
  • having dementia or a mental illness.

If you use a wheelchair, walker, or any other metal equipment, keep it in the shade as it can quickly become hot to touch and may cause a burn.

Advice for carers

  • Check on your elderly friend or family member twice a day, if possible, during hot weather.
  • Whenever possible, check on them in person rather than by phone.
People with existing physical/mental health conditions or on certain medications

Some medications can make you more likely to experience heat stress, such as treatment for insomnia, depression, anxiety or poor circulation.

Other medications can make you more likely to experience sunburn, such as treatment for acne.

Some health conditions increase your risk of heat stress during hot weather, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

If you take prescription medicines, you must continue to take these during periods of extreme heat.

If your doctor normally limits your fluids or you are on fluid tablets, you may need to check with them how much to drink in hot weather.

People exercising in the heat

The combination of hot weather and the heat your body produces when you exercise can create dangerously high body temperatures, leading to heat stress.

Who is at risk?

  • Exercising in hot weather, even if you have a high fitness level, increases your risk of heat stress.
  • Early signs of exercise-related heat stress include slurred speech and lack of coordination.
  • There is also the risk of collapse and even death.
  • Generally women face an increased risk of heat stress because of their greater percentage of body fat compared to men
  • Heat stress can also affect children when they exercise, especially intense or endurance activities like football.

Where to get help

  • Speak to your local chemist/pharmacist
  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

If you are very sick go to your nearest hospital or call 000 for an ambulance.


Content thanks to SA Health, Government of South Australia.


Acknowledgements

Disaster Preparedness Management Unit


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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