An ACT Government Website

Many Australians suffer mild to serious heat-related stress and illness every year.

Some groups of people are more at risk than others. These include babies and young children, pregnant people, older people and people who have medical conditions.

It is important for everyone to be aware and prepared for the hot temperatures. You must protect your skin from the sun, even on cloudy days.

Stay sun smart and beat the heat this summer by staying hydrated, staying cool and looking after family and friends.

Heatwaves and extreme heat

Extreme heat or a heatwave is more than just ‘hotter than usual’ weather.

A heatwave is when there are three or more days in a row of unusually high maximum temperatures. During heatwaves overnight temperatures also remain high.

Extreme heat or heatwave conditions can affect your health quickly and unexpectedly.

Anyone can be affected by a heatwave but some people are more vulnerable. Your body may not be able to cool you down enough in the hot weather if you are an older person or if you are taking certain medicines.

Extreme heat can also affect community infrastructure like power supply and public transport and other services.

Heat-related illness

During heatwaves, you are more likely to develop a heat-related illness, like heat exhaustion, and you can become unwell very quickly.

People most at risk of heat-related illness

A heatwave can affect anyone, but people who are most at risk of heat-related illness are:

  • babies and young children
  • people over the age of 65
  • people who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • people with existing medical conditions
  • people with disability
  • people on medications which affect the way their bodies respond to hot weather (talk to your GP, pharmacist or other healthcare provider about this)
  • people who work outdoors
  • people who, due to their personal circumstances or background, may need extra support and assistance.
Hot tip!
During extreme heat conditions check on others – particularly those most at risk of heat-related illness – to see if they are okay and can take actions to stay cool and protected. If you can’t visit them in person, check-in by phone. Continue to look out for them after the heatwave – as the strain of heat exposure, such as disrupted sleep, can still be felt after the hot weather has passed.

Symptoms, signs and first aid

Heat-related exhaustion is a serious medical condition. If it’s not recognised early, it can develop into heat-stroke, a life-threatening condition requiring urgent medical attention.

Be on the lookout for any symptoms of heat-related illness. Take actions to cool down and hydrate. Seek help if you are concerned.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion can include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • faintness
  • nausea and vomiting.

The signs of the most severe heat illness — heat stroke — can include:

  • fits
  • confusion
  • slurred speech
  • staggering
  • collapsing
  • profuse sweating or hot, dry skin
  • rapid breathing
  • very high body temperature.

In babies, signs of heat exhaustion can also include:

  • irritability
  • feeling very warm to touch
  • sunken eyes
  • restlessness
  • floppiness
  • a reduced number of wet nappies.

Babies are more vulnerable to the effects of heat and can deteriorate quickly. Don’t hesitate to seek help early if a baby is showing any signs of heat-exhaustion or heat stroke.

You can do the following first aid for heat exhaustion:

  • get to a cooler environment
  • lie down
  • use cool wet towels around the neck and underarms
  • drink water
  • seek medical review if symptoms worsen or don’t improve or if you are concerned.
Hot tip!
The best way to prevent heat exhaustion is to stay hydrated and to stay as cool as possible. Always have your water bottle with you and keep out of the sun during the hottest part of the day.

Getting help

If you become very unwell:

Heat stroke is extremely dangerous. If you think you or someone else are experiencing symptoms of heat stroke, or you are concerned, go to the nearest hospital emergency department or call triple zero (000) for an ambulance immediately.

Mental health and wellbeing

There are many ways heat can impact mental health and wellbeing.

A common side effect of extreme heat is irritability. This may be result of physical discomfort or poor sleep due to heat and more vulnerable to stress.

Some people may find news and images of bushfires and other seasonal hazards – around the world and in Australia – extremely upsetting and feel anxious.

People with pre-existing mental illness are also at increased risk during periods of high temperatures due to social isolation and complex health conditions as well as the impact of heat on medications.

Help is always available if you need it.

Speak to your GP or other health professionals if you feel like the heat or news is impacting your mental health or to get advice about how the heat may impact your mental health treatment.

If you know someone with pre-existing mental illness, check in with the person regularly as they may need assistance during times of prolonged high temperature.

Ways to beat the heat

Follow the tips below to keep cool and safe in the hot weather.

  • Check the forecast - know when hot weather is coming.
  • Keep hydrated - drink plenty of water. Talk to your GP about how much water you should drink in hot weather if they normally limit your fluid intake.
  • Keep babies and young children safe by keeping them cool and well-hydrated. Watch for dark urine and check the frequency of nappy changes. See hydration tips for children.
  • Plan your day around the heat - avoid being outdoors between 11am and 3pm. If you have to go outside, seek shade or shelter.
  • Be SunSmart - wear light, loose fitting, clothing, a hat and sunglasses, use SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen and seek shade if you go outside.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine – they can make dehydration worse.
  • Soak – take a cool shower or bath or sit for a while with your feet in cool water.
  • Be cool – stay indoors and use fans or air-conditioners or seek out cool places with air-conditioning, like public libraries and shopping centres. At extremely high temperatures (around 39 degrees and above), fans can be less effective at keeping someone cool.
  • Close curtains and blinds to block out the sun. Spend time in the coolest part of your home.
  • Rest – make sure you get enough sleep, and rest if you feel tired.
  • Eat fresh – eat cold foods such as salads or fruit.
  • Talk to your GP – check how the heat could impact your medications, diet and fluid intake.
  • Check on others – relatives, neighbours and friends, especially those living alone or who are socially isolated, and don't forget your pets!
  • Know who you will call for help – have a list of people and telephone numbers you can contact if you need help.
Hot tip!
Never leave kids or pets alone in a car - Being in a hot car or room, or in direct sun, for short periods of time can cause heat exhaustion no matter how healthy you are. Don’t risk it! And don’t risk it for your loved ones either.

Avoiding heat stress at events

Summer is a perfect time for outdoor activities like concerts, festivals, sporting events, exhibitions and parties.

But the hot temperatures can cause discomfort or illness. Heat-related stress can cause fatigue, sunburn, heat cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion, to the more severe heat stroke.

Both participants and event organisers have a role to play in avoiding heat-related stress.


  • Drink plenty of water regularly to prevent dehydration. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them since they have a dehydrating effect.
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing and protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat and using sunscreen.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein which increase the metabolic rate and increase the amount of body heat that must be dissipated.
  • Take an umbrella to outdoor events for shade.
  • Never leave children unattended in cars even if the air-conditioning is on. Cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly.
  • Rotate out of the sun to shaded areas frequently.
  • When carrying food to the event, if possible, choose foods that do not require refrigeration.

Event organisers and officials

  • Avoid the hottest part of the day for the event (generally between 11am and 3pm).
  • Provide sufficient shade for participants and adequate water stations.
  • Officials should rotate out of the sun frequently and have regular rest periods in air-conditioned areas if possible.
  • Ensure trained first aid personnel and designated facilities for management of sunburn and heat-related illnesses.
  • UV protection and heat-related illness prevention messages should be included in event programs and on promotional material.
  • Encourage food suppliers to ensure temperature control in the preparation, transportation and storage of food.
  • Consider the use of an air-conditioned indoor venue if suitable.
  • When public safety is a concern due to extreme heat, consider postponing or cancelling the event.

More information

Find out more about:

Go to these websites for more information.

Printable poster

Download the printable Tips to Beat the Heat posters:

This page is managed by: ACT Health Directorate