Heat-related illness: Keep cool this summer

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The holiday season for many is a time to unwind and celebrate the year past. However according to the Better Health Channel, heat kills more Australians than any natural disaster.

Which is why, whilst enjoying the summer months, it’s important to be aware of the causes, symptoms and prevention of heat-related illness.

We’ve compiled some key information from the Better Health Channel and HealthyWA to help you keep cool this summer, and have a happy and safe holiday season.

What causes heat-related illness?

Our bodies need to stay at a temperature of around 37°C to keep healthy. A heat-related illness occurs when the body is not able to regulate, or control, its temperature. As explained by the Better Health Channel, it can be caused by the following:

  • Dehydration – we naturally cool ourselves by sweating, however if our bodies become dehydrated, we sweat less and our body temperature will rise.
  • Sun exposure – long periods of exposure to the sun, particularly in the warmer hours of the day.
  • Lack of airflow – working in hot, poorly ventilated areas or spending time in hot and crowded conditions.

Who is most at risk?

We are all susceptible to developing a heat-related illness, however as explained by HealthyWA, those most vulnerable include:

  • The elderly (typically those aged 65 years and over)
  • Babies and young children
  • People with some existing physical and mental health conditions or using certain medications
  • People who exercise
  • People who work outside
  • Overseas travellers who are not used to the Australian heat

Heat-related illnesses and their symptoms

As explained by the Better Health Channel, symptoms can vary depending on the type of heat-related illness, so keep an eye out for:

  • Heatstroke: A medical emergency and requires urgent attention
    Heatstroke occurs when the core body temperature rises above 40.5 °C and the body’s internal systems begin to shut down. Many organs can suffer damage and the body temperature must be reduced quickly. Symptoms of heatstroke include delirium, coma and seizures. The person may stagger, appear confused, have a fit or collapse and become unconscious.

  • Heat exhaustion:
    A serious condition that can develop into heatstroke, occurring when excessive sweating in a hot environment reduces the blood volume. Symptoms include paleness and sweating, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting, dizziness or fainting.

  • Dizziness and fainting:
    Heat causes an increase in blood flow to the skin and pooling of blood in the legs, which can lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure and a reduced blood flow to the brain.

  • Heat cramps:
    These are often experienced in the abdomen, arms or legs and can include muscle pains or spasms, and may occur after strenuous activity in a hot environment, when the body gets depleted of salt and water.

  • Heat rash:
    Often appearing as a red cluster of pimples or small blisters, this is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating.

  • Deterioration in existing medical conditions:
    The most common health problem of heat-related illness.

Treatment

If you or someone you are with shows any sign of heat exhaustion or heatstroke, apply first aid and seek medical assistance immediately.

Treatment varies depending on the heat-related illness. For detailed information on treating a specific heat-related illness, visit the Better Health Channel.

Prevention

There are a few key things you can do to keep your body cool during the summer months, and reduce your risk of developing a heat-related illness. These include:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid exposure to heat and stay out of the sun where possible
  • Where sun exposure is unavoidable, be sure to protect yourself and slip, slop, slap
  • Don’t leave kids, older people or pets in cars
  • Stay cool – where possible, eat cooler meals, draw your blinds and use a fan or air conditioner to keep air circulating around you.
  • Take it easy! Too much activity on a hot day can lead to heat-related illness, so be sure to rest often.

Where to get help