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Heatwave Action Guide

Heatwaves Can Kill | Heat Stress and Those Most at Risk | Avoiding Heat Stress | Heat Stress Symptoms and First Aid Treatment | Unusual Discomfort and Heat Cramps | Heat Exhaustion | Heat Stroke (Hyperthermia) | Other Resources

Heatwaves Can Kill 

Heatwaves are perhaps our most under-rated and least studied natural hazard. During the 20th century, heatwaves have probably caused more deaths in Australia than any other natural hazard. A single heatwave in southern Australia once resulted in 437 deaths and seriously affected many thousands. Heat can also cause expensive livestock and crop losses and damage to roads, railways, bridges etc.

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Heat Stress and Those Most at Risk

Every summer people suffer from heat stress when the body absorbs more heat than it can dispel (see Treatment). Prompt action will avoid the serious or even fatal consequences of fully-developed heat stroke. At most risk are young children; the elderly; those with alcohol, weight, or health problems; and people on medications/drugs which have a drying effect, or reduce perspiration. Seek medical advice in all such cases.

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Avoiding Heat Stress

  • Wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose, porous clothes and a wide-brimmed hat. Avoid strenuous activities.
  • Drink 2 to 3 litres of water per day, even if not thirsty.
  • Don't have alcoholic or carbonated soft drinks.
  • Don't take salt tablets unless prescribed by a doctor.
  • Avoid heavy protein foods (eg meat, dairy products, etc) which raise body heat and increase fluid loss.
  • Keep your home cool with curtains, shutters, or awnings on the sunny sides and leave windows open at night.
  • If you don't have air conditioning, use fans, damp clothing and have frequent cool showers.
  • Spend as much time as possible in air conditioned buildings (eg shopping centres, galleries, museums etc).
  • Avoid direct sunlight if possible. Use strong sunscreen as sunburn limits the body's ability to cope with heat.
  • Don't leave children (or pets) in parked vehicles.
  • If you suffer chronic illness or feel unwell, see a doctor.
  • Give animals access to shade and plenty of water.

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Heat Stress Symptoms and Fist Aid Treatment

Unusual Discomfort and Heat Cramps

Symtoms

  • Heavy sweating, tired and thirsty.
  • Irritability, loss of appetite.
  • Prickly heat rash, nausea. Muscle spasms/twitching, moist cool skin.
  • Painful muscle cramps (limbs & abdomen).

Treatment (First Aid)

  • Drink more water.
  • Have a cold shower/bath.
  • Lie in a cool place with legs supported and slightly elevated.
  • Massage muscles gently to ease spasms, or firmly if cramped, then apply ice packs and drink glucose (eg cordial).
  • Don't have salt.

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Heat Exhaustion

Symptoms

  • Profuse sweating.
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin.
  • Fatigue, weakness and restlessness.
  • Headache and vomiting.
  • Weak, but rapid pulse.
  • Poor co-ordination.
  • Normal temperature, but faintness.

Treatment (First Aid)

  • Lay victim down in cool as above, loosen clothing and apply cool wet cloths to head and body.
  • Fan, or move victim to an air conditioned area.
  • Give sips of cold water.
  • If vomiting continues seek medical assistance immediately.

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Heat Stroke (Hyperthermia)

Symptoms

  • Confusion, headache, nausea, dizziness.
  • Skin flushed, hot and usually dry.
  • Dry swollen tongue.
  • High body temperature (40 C+).
  • Rapid, strong pulse at first, then weaker.
  • Deep unconsciousness may develop rapidly.

Treatment (First Aid)

  • Seek medical assistance urgently.
  • In the meantime: Lay victim in cool as above and remove outer clothing.
  • If unconscious, check airway and breathing.
  • Cool victim quickly, applying cold water, or wrap in a wet sheet and fan them (keep wet).
  • When conscious also give sips of water.

Other Resources

Public Health - Extreme Heat Information Link to External Site

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Information supplied by Australian Emergency Management Institute (AEMI) Link to External Site