With heatwaves becoming a regular feature of the Victorian summer, it’s important to plan ahead and consider how you can look after yourself and others when the extreme heat hits.
During extreme heat it is easy to become dehydrated or for your body to overheat. If this happens, you may develop heat cramps, heat exhaustion or even heatstroke. Heatstroke is a medical emergency which can result in permanent damage to your vital organs, or even death, if not treated immediately. Extreme heat can also make existing medical conditions worse.
Who is most at risk?
- People who are aged over 65 years, particularly those living alone
- Those who have a medical condition such as diabetes, kidney disease or mental illness
- People who are taking medications that may affect the way the body reacts to heat (allergy medicines (antihistamines); blood pressure and heart medicines (beta-blockers); seizure medicines (anticonvulsants); water pills (diuretics); antidepressants or antipsychotics
- People who have problematic alcohol or drug use
- Those who are living with a disability
- Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers
- Babies and young children
- People who are overweight or obese
- People who work or exercise outdoors
- People who have recently arrived from cooler climates
How can I protect myself?
During extreme heat, whether it’s one hot day or a heatwave, remember:
- Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty
- Keep yourself cool by using wet towels, putting your feet in cool water and taking cool (not cold) showers.
- Spend as much time as possible in cool or air-conditioned buildings (shopping centres, libraries, cinemas or community centres).
- Block out the sun at home during the day by closing curtains and blinds.
- Open the windows when there is a cool breeze.
- Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. If you do have to go outside, wear a hat and sunscreen, and seek shade.
- Cancel or postpone outings. If you absolutely must go out, stay in the shade and take plenty of water with you.
- Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibres like cotton and linen.
- Eat smaller meals more often and cold meals such as salads.
- Make sure food that needs refrigeration is properly stored.
- Avoid heavy activity like sport, renovating and gardening.
- Watch or listen to news reports to find out more information during extreme heat.
How can I help others?
In extreme heat, check on and help other people who may be at a higher risk of heat-related illness:
- Keep in touch with sick or frail friends and family.
- Call them at least once on any extreme heat day.
- Encourage them to drink plenty of water.
- Offer to help family, friends and neighbours who are aged over 65 or have an illness by doing shopping or other errands so they can avoid the heat. Take them somewhere cool for the day or have them stay the night if they are unable to stay cool in their home.
- If you observe symptoms of heat-related illness, seek medical help.
Where can I get help?
- In an emergency, call triple zero (000)
- Your doctor – if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from a heat-related illness
- NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 60 60 24 – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- Department of Health & Human Services – survive the heat information in community languages.
- Maternal and Child Health Line, Victoria Tel. 132 229 (24 hours)
For more information head to Better Health Channel – How to cope and stay safe in extreme heat
Source: Better Health Channel