Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Hot weather risks and staying cool

We live in a sunburnt country where hot days and heatwaves can stress our bodies. Here's how to stay cool and hydrated.

Heatwaves have killed more Australians than all other natural hazards combined.

There were 430 deaths during the severe heatwaves in southeastern Australia in 2009 when Melbourne sweltered through three consecutive days at or above 43°C in late January.

We continue to experience extreme heat. In January 2013, Sydney and Hobart set all-time records with 45.8°C and 41.8°C respectively, making this Australia’s hottest month and with records set in every state.

Who is most at risk from hot weather?

While most people find extremely hot weather and heatwaves uncomfortable, some people have a higher risk than others of becoming ill. These include:

  • elderly people aged over 75 years
  • babies and young children
  • people with long term health conditions, for example heart or respiratory disease, diabetes or circulatory diseases
  • people who are obese
  • people taking certain medicines
  • people who are socially isolated
  • people who work outdoors or in hot and poorly ventilated areas
  • people engaging in vigorous physical activity in hot weather
  • people who are not acclimatised to the heat, for example overseas visitors.

It’s important to keep drinking water even if you don’t feel thirsty.

Tips to help you stay well during hot weather

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. Avoid alcoholic, hot or sugary drinks (including tea and coffee) because these can make dehydration worse.

Keep your body cool

Keeping as cool as possible can also help you prevent heat-related illness. Make sure you stay out of the sun. Drinking cold drinks and eating smaller, cold meals, such as salads and fruit, 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 may 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 are 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. 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). See the sections below for when you may need to seek medical help.

Keep your food safe

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

When the heat has passed, continue to drink plenty of water. Open windows and doors to let your house cool down, contact family and friends to find out how they have coped and to see if they need help, and go to your doctor if you feel unwell. You might also like to think about how well you coped and if you would do anything differently next time, including making changes to your home to make it more comfortable during extreme heat periods.

Stay safe in the sun

If you need to go out in the sun, it's important to protect your own 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. See our stay safe in the sun article for tips about using sunscreen and other kinds of sun protection.

What heat-related illnesses should I look out for?

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: A cluster of red pimples or small blisters, particularly on the neck or upper chest, or in creases in the groin, elbow and under the breasts. 

Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

What to do: Move to a cooler, less humid environment. 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: Dizziness, tiredness, irritability, thirst, dark yellow urine, loss of appetite, fainting.

What to do: 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 you down. If you start to feel unwell, call your doctor, the nearest hospital emergency department or healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

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.

Symptoms: Muscle pains or spasms. Heat cramps can also be an early symptom of heat exhaustion.

What to do: 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: 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. 

Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

What to do: 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) for an ambulance.

Heat stroke

This occurs when the body temperature is not controlled properly and it rises above 40.5 °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: A 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.

What to do: Call triple zero (000) 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. Place cool packs under their armpits, on the groin or on the back of their neck to reduce body heat. Do not give aspirin or paracetamol because they won’t help and may be harmful. If they are unconscious, lay the person on their side (the recovery position) and check they can breathe properly. Perform CPR if needed.

Where can I get help?

If you are unwell, contact your doctor or go to the nearest hospital emergency department. If you think your symptoms are serious, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance immediately. If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile phone, try 112.

While you are waiting for an ambulance try to cool yourself down. You can do this by placing icepacks under your armpits, on your groin or on the back of the neck to reduce body heat. Take a cool shower or bath (if you feel well enough) or spray yourself with cool water from a spray bottle.

You can also call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to talk to a registered nurse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

More information

Contact your local council or your state or territory health authority for information specifically for your area:

Last reviewed: October 2016

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 335 results

Babies in hot weather

How to keep your baby safe in hot weather with tips on sun safety and keeping cool, avoiding dehydration and heatstroke, plus links to trusted resources.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Dehydration and hot weather - myDr.com.au

Dehydration is the loss of water and salts from the body. You are at particular risk of dehydration during hot weather.

Read more on myDr website

Hot weather advice (video transcript)

Transcript to accompany video Hot weather advice

Read more on WA Health website

Keeping baby cool in the heat | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Babies and mothers need special attention to ensure that they are comfortable and well hydrated when the weather turns hot. Here's how to keep your baby and yourself cool when breastfeeding in hot weather.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Heat stress and your pets

Just like people, your pets can suffer from heat stress if they arent kept cool in hot weather.

Read more on WA Health website

Heat stress when exercising

The combination of hot weather and the heat your body produces when you exercise can create dangerously high body temperatures, leading to heat stress.

Read more on WA Health website

Babies and children in hot weather - Beat the Heat

Babies and children need to be watched carefully during hot weather carefully because they are at a higher risk of becoming unwell than adults.

Read more on NSW Health website

Heat stress and heat stroke - Farmer Health | Farmer Health

Heat stress is one of the biggest health risks associated with heat waves. Hot weather places extra strain on your body as it tries to cool itself to its preferred temperature of 37C. Farmers working outside, or in farm buildings...

Read more on The National Centre for Farmer Health website

Heat stress

When it is very hot, you may be at increased risk of heat stress.

Read more on WA Health website

Heat Related Illness

Hot weather and heat waves cause illness, hospitalisations and sometimes death. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness in order to recognise and treat affected people promptly.

Read more on NSW Health website

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback