Everything you need to know to survive the “silent killer” 13



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With most of the country in the grips of a heatwave and temperatures set to soar into the 40s in many part of Australia, it’s crucial you know how to look after yourself.

Heatwave is described by medical professionals as the “silent killer” because, unlike other extreme weather events, it can take days or weeks to take its toll.

In light of our changing climate and the increased incidence of heatwave, the United Nations this year released guidelines on how to keep yourself safe. People most at risk are infants, the elderly and anyone with respiratory or other chronic illnesses, which can be exacerbated during the hot weather.

When it is very hot, you may be at increased risk of heat related illness, especially if you have medical conditions or take certain medicines. In addition to keeping yourself cool and well, it’s important you check on anyone else you know who might be vulnerable.

Early symptoms of heat stress include:

  • headaches
  • feeling dizzy, faint or weak
  • urinating less often
  • muscle spasms or cramps
  • nausea

If you feel any of these symptoms during a heatwave, phone your state health hotline, visit your GP or go to the emergency department of your hospital.

In more extreme cases of heat stress, symptoms include:

  • hot red skin, with no sweat
  • shaking
  • feeling confused
  • vomiting

If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, phone 000 immediately.

The best thing you can do during a heatwave is avoid getting too hot. Here are some ideas on how to stay cool and safe:

  • If you can avoid going outside during the middle of the day, do so.
  • If you have air-conditioning, turn it on, close the blinds and doors and stay inside! If you don’t have air-conditioning, consider visiting somewhere that does, such as the library or cinema, for the hottest part of the day.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty, unless your doctor has advised you not to. Try to drink water or diluted fruit juice and avoid tea, coffee or alcohol.
  • Eat smaller meals during hot weather and try to eat more cold meals, such as salads and fruit so you don’t have to use your oven.
  • Continue taking your prescribed medicines but be aware that some medications make you more prone to sunburn and heat stress.
  • Wear light coloured, loose fitting clothing, preferably made from natural fibres like cotton or linen, and avoid synthetic fabrics.
  • Rinse a cloth in cool water and use it to wipe your arms and neck.
  • Put your feet in a bowl of cool water.
  • Make ice cubes from water or cordial and suck them to keep cool.
  • Put a bowl of ice cubes in front of a fan to create a cool breeze.

How do you stay cool during heatwaves? Were you aware of the risks? 

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Each morning when I get out of bed during a heat wave the fist thing I do is put the air conditioner on so that it maintains a comfortable temperature in the house all day without having to wait until later in the day as it uses far more energy, and I make sure I have cool comfy clothes and drink lots of water, that usually works very well!

  2. I don’t have air conditioning. Too expensive to run. I bought an Evaporative Cooler and it works just as well but uses about 10% of the power that an air con uses. And we get temps up around 43c and 44c during the summer. I simply close the house up and turn it on on whatever room I happen to be in and it keeps me and the dog nice and cool.

    3 REPLY
    • Is that a mobile evaporative cooler! Ours cools every room as its on the roof, but last year was our first summer and we didn’t know how to use it. The floors were wet, even though I’d opened Windows. The rooms were still warm! This year, I pressed buttons, read the destruction book, again!! no real result! Then, I pressed something, and, cool cool air! Now, no one is allowed to touch any button other than off or on! Too scared to lose the setting!

    • Well, that’s good. Last summer we seriously considered air conditioning because what we had seemed a flop. But, now it’s working, it’s ok. Though we have been warned they are not as effective in humid weather. Years ago, we had an old fashioned type of portable evaporative cooler. I remember putting a table in front of it with bowls of ice!! Have a cool summer!

  3. If near or over 39c is forecast, I get up at 5am to get all important chores done! I close all the blinds, turn the evaporative cooler on. If I have to shop, I’m there as soon as the supermarket is open, get in and get out! Make sure water with cut lemons is in fridge to chill. Feed the chooks veggies in ice blocks. Put ice cubes in Harri’s water bowl. All done by 9am, then keep cool and calm until a cool change comes. Eat cold meat and salad, fruit, and have frozen juice tubes in freezer.

  4. I went shopping in the 38 deg heat all day today so I wont have to go shopping in the 40 deg heat all day tomorrow. Will close all the windows and blinds, turn on the ceiling fans and bring the dogs inside..I do feel sorry for people like my husband who have to be outside without shade in this weather.

  5. use empty plastic bottles fill them with water , freeze them , put them in buckets of water in front of fans etc for a cooler breeze.

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