Summer safety

Beat the heat

Many Australians suffer mild to serious heat-related stress and illness every year.

Some groups of people – such as babies and young children, pregnant people, older people and people who have medical conditions – are more at risk than others.

With hotter day and overnight temperatures expected during the summer months, it is important for everyone to be aware and prepared for the hot temperatures. It’s also important to protect your skin from the sun, even on cloudy days.

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

Find out more below.

What is extreme heat?

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

A heatwave is when there are three or more days of unusually high maximum temperatures, with the overnight minimum also remaining at high levels.

Why is a heatwave a problem?

Extreme heat or heatwave conditions can affect your health quickly and unexpectedly.

Anyone can be affected by a heatwave; however, some people are more vulnerable. 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.

Extreme heat can also affect community infrastructure (such as power supply and public transport) and other services.

What is heat-related illness and who is most at risk?

During a heatwave, you are more likely to develop a heat-related illness, like heat stress, and can become unwell much quicker.

Heat-related stress is a serious medical condition and if not spotted early and managed properly, can potentially develop into life-threatening illness (heat-stroke).

The early symptoms of heat-related stress include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • faintness
  • nausea and vomiting.

In babies, signs of heat stress include irritability, restlessness and a reduced number of wet nappies.

If you have a medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease and if you take certain medications, heat can make your symptoms worse.

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

Who is most vulnerable?

A heatwave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people are:

  • young children and babies
  • older people
  • pregnant women
  • obese individuals
  • disabled individuals, particularly those with impaired mobility
  • individuals on medications which promote fluid loss or reduce sweating (talk to your GP about this)
  • individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular and/or respiratory disease
  • individuals who exercise or work outdoors
  • people who are socially isolated (e.g. homeless people)
  • people who are not acclimatised to heat (e.g. overseas visitors)

Hot tip! During extreme heat conditions, check on others to see if they are okay, particularly those most at risk of heat-related illness.

Ways to beat the heat

We encourage you to follow our simple precautions to keep comfortable and safe in the hot weather.
Be on the lookout for any symptoms of heat-related illness and see your GP or visit a Walk-in Centre if you are unwell.

  • Keep hydrated - drink plenty of water.
  • Plan your day around the heat - avoid being outdoors between 11am and 3pm.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine - they can make dehydration worse.
  • Soak - take a cool shower or bath to help you cool down.
  • Be cool - stay indoors and make use of fans or air-conditioners.
  • Rest - make sure you get enough sleep, and rest if you feel tired.
  • Eat fresh - try eating cold foods such as salads or fruit.
  • Check on others including children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with medical conditions and don't forget your pets!
  • Seek shade when outside.
  • Be SunSmart - wear light weight clothing, a hat and sunglasses and apply SPF 30 (or higher) broad-spectrum sunscreen if you’re heading outside.

Hot tip! Even being in a hot car or room, or in direct sun, for short periods of time can cause heat stress no matter how fit 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.

Check out the resources and other helpful links section for more advice on avoiding heat-related stress.

Where to get help during a heatwave

If you become very unwell, contact your doctor or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

If you think your symptoms are serious, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance immediately.

For 24-hour health advice, please call healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.

Page last updated on: 1 Dec 2021