Heatwaves are perhaps our most under-rated natural hazard. In Australia during the 20th century, heatwaves caused more deaths than any other natural hazard.

What is a heatwave?

A heatwave is a prolonged period of 3 or more consecutive days of excessive heat. In Australia excessive heat can vary from 35°C to 42°C.

This unusual and uncomfortable hot weather can impact on human and animal health and cause disruption to community infrastructure such as power supply, public transport and services.  

Who is vulnerable to the affects of a heatwave?  

Although everyone is vulnerable to the affects of a heatwave, those most at risk are:  

  • babies and children under four years
  • seniors and older people living alone
  • pregnant women, breast feeding mothers and infants
  • people taking medications that may interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Anyone with:  

  • a chronic or mental illness
  • health conditions that may impair sweating
  • limited or poor mobility
  • excess body weight (overweight)

People who undertake vigorous exercise during a heatwave (including animals) are also susceptible to its effects.

How do I avoid heat stress for myself and my family?
  • Wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose, porous natural fibre clothes
  • Avoid strenuous activities
  • Drink two to three litres of water per day, even if not thirsty
  • Avoid alcoholic, caffeinated or carbonated (soft) drinks
  • Don't take salt tablets unless prescribed by a doctor
  • Avoid protein foods such as meat, dairy products which increase body heat and fluid loss
  • Keep your home cool with curtains, shutters, or awnings on the sunny sides and open windows 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 (e.g. shopping centres, art galleries, libraries, museums)
  • Avoid direct sunlight. Wear a hat and sunscreen as sunburn limits your ability to cope with heat
  • If you work outside, keep hat and clothing damp
  • Don't leave children or pets in parked vehicles
  • If you suffer chronic illness or feel ill, see your doctor
  • Keep animals in the shade with plenty of water
Further information

Beat the Heat - NSW Health