Health conditions

Preventing and treating heat stress

When it is very hot, you may be at increased risk of heat stress.

Find out more about heat stress, including who is at risk and the signs and symptoms.

How can heat stress be prevented?

The following precautions can help prevent heat stress.

Plan ahead

  • Listen to radio and television weather reports and try to plan ahead for the hot days.
  • Check on older, sick and frail people who may need help coping with the heat.

Drink regularly

  • Drink plenty of water and fluids. Consider diluted juice (mixed with water) or low sugar sports drinks.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks (including tea, coffee and energy drinks) as these can increase dehydration.
  • If your doctor normally limits your fluids or you are on fluid tablets, you may need to check how much to drink in hot weather.

Keep cool

  • Stay indoors, if possible in airconditioning.
  • Don't rely on fans unless there is adequate ventilation. Make sure the room you are in has an open door or window so fresh air can flow through the room.
  • Take a cool shower or bath or put your feet in a bowl of cool water.
  • Reduce physical activity.
  • Sleep with just a sheet over you.
  • Make ice cubes from water or cordial and suck them to stay cool.
  • Use a spray bottle filled with water to cool your face and body.
  • Never leave anyone in a closed car.

When outdoors

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, preferably made from natural fibres like cotton or linen that absorb sweat and allow the skin to breathe. Avoid synthetic fabrics.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that covers your head and shades your face. Caps do not provide adequate sun protection.
  • Apply sunscreen at regular intervals while outdoors.
  • Avoid outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day.
  • If possible, stay in shaded areas when outdoors.
What if I have a health condition or take medication?

Your risk of heat stress during hot weather can be increased by:

  • some health conditions, for example heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes
  • certain medications taken for these conditions, including medications for insomnia, depression, anxiety, or poor circulation.

Talk to your doctor so you are aware of your risks and how you should look after yourself.

If you take prescription medication, you must continue to take it during hot weather. Some medication can make you more likely to experience sunburn and heat stress, so watch for signs that you are becoming affected by the heat.

Speak to your doctor or a chemist if you need advice on a particular medication.

How is heat stress treated?

If you suspect you have heat stress:

  • Rest in a cool, well ventilated area.
  • Remove excess clothing.
  • Drink plenty of water and fluids. Consider diluted juice (mixed with water) or low sugar sports drinks.
  • Apply cool wet cloths, cold water or ice packs (armpits and groin) to the skin.

Seek urgent medical advice

The following are severe heat stress symptoms:

  • a high body temperature
  • nausea
  • dry, red, hot skin
  • a rapid heart rate.

Where to get help

  • If you have severe symptoms, always dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance in a medical emergency
  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • When it is very hot, you may be at increased risk of heat stress.
  • Reduce the risk of heat stress – drink often, keep cool and wear appropriate clothing.
  • Seek medical advice if your condition does not improve.

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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