In Australia, heat is the norm.
But just because it’s common, it doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Quite the opposite. In the past 200 years, heat has killed more Australians than any natural disaster.
Extreme or enduring heat can lead to a serious medical emergency – heat stress or heat stroke.
Here in Melbourne, we’re sandwiched in the space between deserts and Antarctic ice – things can and do change at the drop of a hat. Here more than anywhere else in the country, we need to be prepared. Because of those dangerous desert winds, we can get a 40º day the day after a 19º one. In fact, that’s how it usually happens, isn’t it?
Our job is to help minimise the danger and help you keep your cool (and warmth) as much as possible. We’re not doctors, but our goal is still to keep you fit and healthy all year round.
For your health and the health of those around you, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
Heat stress is the precursor to heat stroke and is the name for the condition in which the body’s core temperature climbs above 37 degrees celsius. Which, as you can imagine, is pretty easy to achieve on an Australian summer day. It doesn’t even have to be 37 outside to achieve that. Just add some physical activity or prolonged standing in the sun. Or even time in a hot car. Wearing a uniform that’s not breathable. Dehydration. Broken down aircon in a bedroom.
Some symptoms of heat stress include:
- Cramps or muscle spasms
- Feeling weak, faint or dizzy
- Vomiting and/or nausea
- High levels of sweating
Without appropriate treatment, heat stress can very quickly lead to heat stroke – a life-threatening illness that requires emergency attention. If the person has any of the following symptoms, it’s time to call an ambulance – they are most likely experiencing heat stroke.
Prominent symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Rapid breathing and pulse
- Hot, dry skin with no sweating
- Losing consciousness
It’s more likely to occur in the elderly and the very young. But it really can happen to anyone. So if you notice someone experiencing these symptoms – or are experiencing them yourself – it’s time to act.
Your imperative here is to get the person cool as quickly as possible. Lay them down in a cool, shady (preferably air-conditioned) place. Use cold, wet towels to help lower the person’s body temperature. Give them water. Treat it like an emergency.
However – we stress – if they are experiencing any symptoms of heat stroke, this cannot be treated at home. You must call 000. Apply the above cooling measures in the meantime, but do not give water. Never risk it – get emergency medical attention as soon as you can.
Now, it’s time to pull out our favourite cliche… Prevention is the best cure.
The best thing you can do is stay cool. Steer clear of outdoor events on those hot days. Take breaks when you’re exercising hard. But on those 35+ days, even your home can become a danger zone. Without adequate cooling, indoor temperatures can soar.
Air conditioner maintenance actively prevents breakdowns. As such, they’re an essential measure in preventing heat-related illnesses.
Check on those around you – dob in an elderly relative for maintenance. And do it before the next heatwave hits (which it will). Look after your home, and look after those around you. In the Australian summer, staying safe and staying cool are one and the same.
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals – this is general information only. If you think you are experiencing the described condition, seek medical attention immediately.