Look after each other and stay cool and safe this summer

The Bureau of Meteorology advises the Canberra region, like much of Australia, can expect above average temperatures during the days and warmer overnight temperatures this summer season. It’s important for everyone to be aware and prepared for the hot temperatures. 

Heat can make anyone sick.

Some groups of people are more at risk of the impacts of heat than others, such as: 

  • babies and young children
  • pregnant people
  • older people
  • people who have medical conditions.

Stay sun smart and beat the heat this summer by staying hydrated, staying cool and looking after your family and friends. 

Extreme heat

Extreme heat or a heatwave is more than just ‘hotter than usual’ weather.

Extreme heat is serious and everyone is at risk of heat related illness. 

A heatwave is when there are three or more days in a row of unusually high maximum temperatures. During heatwaves the overnight minimum temperatures also stay at high levels.

Extreme heat or heatwave conditions can affect your health quickly and without warning.

Anyone can be affected by a heatwave, but some people are more sensitive to the impacts of heat. For example, if you are an older person or if you are taking certain medicines, your body may not be able to cool you down enough in the hot weather.

It’s important that you prepare early and plan for heatwaves to protect yourself and the people around you. 

Follow our advice on preparing yourself and your home for heatwaves.

ACT Emergency Services, working with ACT Health, issues heatwave warnings when a heatwave is imminent and/or when a heatwave is occurring in the ACT.

During heatwaves, you are more likely to develop a heat-related illness, like heat exhaustion, and you can become unwell very quickly. 

People most at risk of heat-related illness

A heatwave can affect anyone, but people who are most at risk of heat-related illness are:

  • babies and young children
  • people over the age of 65
  • people who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • people with existing medical conditions
  • people with disability 
  • people on medications which affect the way their bodies respond to hot weather (talk to your GP, pharmacist or other healthcare provider about this)
  • people who work outdoors
  • people who, due to their personal circumstances or background, may need extra support and assistance.

Hot tip! During extreme heat conditions check on others – particularly those most at risk of heat-related illness – to see if they are okay and can take actions to stay cool and protected. If you can’t visit them in person, check-in by phone. Continue to look out for them after the heatwave – as the strain of heat exposure, such as disrupted sleep, can still be felt after the hot weather has passed.

Symptoms, signs and first aid

Heat exhaustion

Heat-related exhaustion is a serious medical condition. If it’s not recognised early, it can develop into heat-stroke, a life-threatening condition requiring urgent medical attention.

Be on the lookout for any symptoms of heat-related illness. Take actions to cool down and hydrate. Seek help if you are concerned.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion can include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • faintness
  • nausea and vomiting.

The signs of the most severe heat illness (heat stroke) can include:

  • fits
  • confusion
  • slurred speech
  • staggering
  • collapsing
  • profuse sweating or hot, dry skin
  • rapid breathing
  • very high body temperature.

In babies, signs of heat exhaustion can also include:

  • irritability
  • feeling very warm to touch
  • sunken eyes
  • restlessness 
  • floppiness
  • a reduced number of wet nappies.

Babies are more vulnerable to the effects of heat and can deteriorate quickly. Don’t hesitate to seek help early if a baby is showing any signs of heat-exhaustion and/or heat stroke.

You can do the following first aid for heat exhaustion:

  • get to a cooler environment
  • lie down
  • use cool wet towels around the neck and underarms
  • drink water 
  • seek medical review if symptoms worsen or don’t improve or if you are concerned.

Hot tip! The best way to prevent heat exhaustion is to stay hydrated and to stay as cool as possible. Always have your water bottle with you and keep out of the sun during the hottest part of the day.

Getting help

If you become very unwell:

Heat stroke is extremely dangerous. If you think you or someone else are experiencing symptoms of heat stroke, or you are concerned, go to the nearest hospital emergency department or call triple zero (000) for an ambulance immediately.

Mental health and wellbeing

There are many ways heat can impact mental health and wellbeing.

A common side effect of extreme heat is irritability. This may be result of physical discomfort or poor sleep due to heat and more vulnerable to stress. 

Some people may find news and images of bushfires and other seasonal hazards – around the world and in Australia – extremely upsetting and feel anxious. 

People with pre-existing mental illness are also at increased risk during periods of high temperatures due to social isolation and complex health conditions as well as the impact of heat on medications.

Help is always available if you need it.

Speak to your GP or other health professionals if you feel like the heat and/or news is impacting your mental health or to get advice about how the heat may impact your mental health treatment. 

If you know someone with pre-existing mental illness, check in with the person regularly as they may need assistance during times of prolonged high temperature.

Ways to beat the heat

Follow the tips below to keep cool and safe in the hot weather.

  • Check the forecast - know when hot weather is coming.
  • Keep hydrated - drink plenty of water. Talk to your GP about how much water you should drink in hot weather if they normally limit your fluid intake.
  • Keep babies and young children safe by keeping them cool and well-hydrated. Watch for dark urine and check the frequency of nappy changes. See hydration tips for children.
  • Plan your day around the heat - avoid being outdoors between 11am and 3pm. If you have to go outside, seek shade or shelter.
  • Be SunSmart - wear light, loose fitting, clothing, a hat and sunglasses, use SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen and seek shade if you go outside.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine – they can make dehydration worse.
  • Soak – take a cool shower or bath or sit for a while with your feet in cool water.
  • Be cool – stay indoors and use fans or air-conditioners or seek out cool places with air-conditioning, like public libraries and shopping centres. At extremely high temperatures (around 39 degrees and above), fans can be less effective at keeping someone cool.
  • Close curtains and blinds to block out the sun. Spend time in the coolest part of your home.
  • Rest – make sure you get enough sleep, and rest if you feel tired.
  • Eat fresh – eat cold foods such as salads or fruit.
  • Talk to your GP – check how the heat could impact your medications, diet and fluid intake.
  • Check on others – relatives, neighbours and friends, especially those living alone or who are socially isolated, and don't forget your pets!
  • Know who you will call for help – have a list of people and telephone numbers you can contact if you need help.

Hot tip! Being in a hot car or room, or in direct sun, for short periods of time can cause heat exhaustion no matter how healthy you are. Don’t risk it! And don’t risk it for your loved ones either – never leave kids or pets alone in a car.

More information

Avoiding heat-related exhaustion and illness

Fact sheets on how to avoid heat-related exhaustion.

We also have a Tips to Beat the Heat poster for you to download and use:

Helpful links

Page last updated on: 19 Feb 2024