While Summer usually brings ideal beach weather and perfect days for BBQs, it also brings with it particular health problems which you should watch out for. If you're in Australia and New Zealand, keep safe this summer and make sure you're aware and that you prepare ahead.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature is not controlled properly and it rises above 40°C. It is the most serious heat-related illness and is a life-threatening emergency. Immediate first aid aimed at lowering the body temperature as quickly as possible is very important.

Symptoms can include:

  • Sudden rise in body temperature

  • Red, hot dry skin (because sweating has stopped – though the person may still be sweaty if they have been exercising)

  • Dry, swollen tongue

  • Rapid pulse

  • Rapid shallow breathing

  • Intense thirst

  • Headache

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dizziness, confusion, poor coordination or slurred speech

  • Aggressive or bizarre behaviour

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Seizures or coma

If you or someone you know is suffering from heatstroke call triple zero (000 or 111 for New Zealand) immediately and ask for an ambulance. While you are waiting for help, move the person to a cool, shaded area and keep them as still as possible. Remove excess clothing and give them small sips of water if they are conscious and able to drink. Bring their temperature down any way you can, for example by gently spraying them with cool water from a spray bottle or garden hose, soaking their clothes with cool water, or sponging their body with cool water.

Heat rash

This is an itchy, painful rash commonly called 'prickly heat'. It is caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather, and particularly affects young children.

Symptoms can include a cluster of red pimples or small blisters, particularly on the neck or upper chest, or in creases in the groin, elbow and under fat folds or the breasts.

If you think you may have heat rash, move to a cooler, less humid place. Keep the affected areas dry (powder can help), and avoid using ointments or creams because they keep the skin warm and moist which can make the condition worse.

Dehydration

This occurs when the body doesn't have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions.

Symptoms can include dizziness, tiredness, irritability, thirst, dark yellow urine, loss of appetite and fainting.

If you feel dehydrated make sure you drink plenty of water or diluted fruit juice and avoid tea, coffee and alcohol. Move to somewhere cool (preferably air-conditioned), and, if possible, use a spray bottle filled with water to cool yourself down. If you have one, drink an oral rehydration solution such as hydrolyte. If you start to feel unwell, call your doctor, the nearest hospital emergency department or contact Sonder for help.

Heat cramps

These usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity, causing the body to lose salt and water. This can lead to heat cramps and symptoms can include muscle pains or spasms. Heat cramps can also be an early symptom of heat exhaustion.

If you're suffering from heat cramps, stop all activity and lie in a cool place (preferably air-conditioned) with your legs raised slightly. Drink water or diluted fruit juice, have a cool shower or bath, massage your limbs to ease the spasms and apply cool packs. Do not go back to strenuous activity until a few hours after the cramps have subsided. If they continue for more than one hour, seek medical attention.

Heat exhaustion

This is the body’s reaction to losing excessive amounts of water and salt contained in sweat.

Symptoms can include:

  • Heavy sweating

  • Pale skin

  • Fast and weak pulse rate

  • Fast and shallow breathing

  • Muscle weakness or cramps

  • Tiredness and weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fainting

If you think you have heat exhaustion, move to a cool place (preferably air-conditioned) and lie down. Remove excess clothing, take small sips of cool fluids, and have a cool shower, bath or sponge bath. Put cool packs under the armpits, on the groin or on the back of the neck to reduce body heat. If symptoms last for longer than one hour, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call triple zero (000 or 111 for New Zealand) for an ambulance.

In order to help you stay well during the hotter months, it’s wise to take note of the following tips:

Drink plenty of water

One of the best ways to avoid heat-related illness is to drink plenty of water. It’s important to keep drinking water even if you don’t feel thirsty, because this can prevent you from becoming dehydrated. It's also wise to avoid alcoholic, hot or sugary drinks (including tea and coffee) if you can because these can make dehydration worse.

Keep your body cool

Keeping as cool as possible can also help you prevent heat-related illnesses. Make sure you stay out of the sun and try drinking cold drinks and eating smaller, cold meals, such as salads and fruit, as they can also help you to keep cool. Other things to do include wearing light-coloured and loose-fitting clothes made from natural fibres such as cotton, and taking cool showers or baths.

Keep your house cool

You can help keep your house cool by shutting curtains and blinds during the day. If you don’t have air-conditioning, go to a cool place such as a library, shopping centre, cinema or swimming pool. Stay in the coolest room in the house and use the stove and oven as little as possible.

Take care of others

Visit or call elderly friends, neighbours or relatives at least once a day. Check they have water in the fridge and encourage them to drink it. You might also like to take them to a shopping centre, library or cinema with air-conditioning. Children also need to be reminded to drink water, and babies, children or animals should never be left alone in a car, even if the air-conditioner is on. Ensure animals have water and plenty of shade if they're outside.

Have a plan

Keep an eye on the weather forecast and know who to call if you need help. Ask your doctor if you have any health conditions that mean you are at greater risk of heat-related illness, and what you need to do about them to keep well in the heat.

Keep your food safe

Make sure food that needs refrigeration is properly stored, and defrost foods in the fridge, not on the kitchen bench.

Stay safe in the sun

If you need to go outside in the sun, it's important to protect you and your children's skin. If you avoid sunburn, you reduce the risk of skin cancer, which is one of the most common cancer types in Australia.

If you are unwell, contact your doctor or go to the nearest hospital emergency department. If you think your symptoms are serious, call for an ambulance immediately on triple zero (000 or 111 for New Zealand).


If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language.

Information sourced from: Health Direct

Image credit: Luke Dean-Weymark on Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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