Staying well in the hot weather
In Australia, we all know that periods of extremely hot weather are common during summer, yet we don’t often think about how the heat affects our health. Some medicines can affect how the body responds to heat, and people taking these medicines may be more susceptible to developing heat-related illness. If you take medicines, there are many things you can do to stay well and prevent heat-related illness. Together with your doctor and pharmacist, it’s a good idea to make a plan to stay healthy in the heat before the hot weather starts.
What are the symptoms of heat-related illness?
Hot weather places a great deal of stress on the body, which can cause heat-related illness. Heat-related illnesses range from dehydration to very serious heat stress. Symptoms include:
- Urinating less
- Feeling faint or weak, which may lead to falls
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle cramps
If you start to feel ill with these symptoms, contact your GP.
More serious symptoms:
- Hot, red dry skin
If you experience more serious symptoms immediately call OOO for an ambulance or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.
How can we prevent heat-related illness?
Here are a few tips for how we can keep the home environment, and ourselves, cool and prevent heat-related illness.
Keep your home cool
- Close windows and shut curtains during the heat of the day
- Let the cool air in at night
- Don’t hesitate to use your air-conditioner; make sure it is set to cool
- If you can’t cool your house, spend time in an air-conditioned place like a library, shopping centre, cinema, or the home of a family member or friend
Keep up your fluids
As we age, it is common for our sense of thirst to lessen. This means we may not feel thirsty even when it is very hot. Make sure you drink enough fluids during hot weather to prevent dehydration, even when you do not feel thirsty.
- Drink plenty of fluids such as water or diluted fruit juice even when you do not feel thirsty
- Drink often throughout the day, rather than drinking large amounts at once
- Avoid drinking large amounts of tea, coffee or alcohol
- Suck ice cubes
- Eat smaller cold meals (e.g. salads)
- Eat foods with high fluid content, such as vegetables, fruits and jellies
Talk to your doctor about how much fluid you should drink during hot weather.
Keep yourself cool
- Wear light loose clothing
- Use wet towels to wipe your face, neck and arms
- Minimise physical activity
- Stay out of the sun
- If you must go outside, go early or late in the day and wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
Medicines and hot weather
Some medicines can affect the way your body reacts to hot weather; other medicines interfere with your body’s ability to sweat and cool itself. They may reduce thirst or increase fluid loss. These medicines include:
- blood pressure and heart medicines
- medicines for mental health conditions
- seizure medicines
- incontinence medicines
- some pain medicines
- diuretics (fluid tablets)
What should I talk to my doctor about?
Make an appointment with your doctor before the hot weather starts. Ask about any medicines you are taking that may increase your risk of developing heat-related illness. Plan how you can take your medicines safely and reduce your risk of heat-related illness.
Plan ahead to stay safe and well in the heat
Make an appointment before the hot weather starts
- Discuss with your doctor any medicines you are taking which may increase your risk of heat-related illness.
- Your doctor may decide to review your medicines to determine if you need to change the medicine or the dose during the warmer months.
Talk to your doctor and make a plan
- Tell your doctor about any symptoms that concern you, such as sweating more, feeling the heat more, feeling thirsty or urinating less.
- Ask your doctor about how much fluid you should be drinking during the hot weather, particularly if you take medicines that affect fluid loss such as fluid tablets, or you are on a restricted fluid intake plan.
- Your doctor may decide to develop a personalised fluid intake plan for the hot weather to prevent dehydration during the warmer months.
- Your doctor can recommend support services to assist you at home during hot weather.
Store medicines safely in the heat
- Some medicines lose their effectiveness in the heat and need to be stored below 25°C.
- Store your medicines in a safe cool dry place away from direct sunlight.
- Do not leave medicines in a warm place such as above the stove, on a windowsill or in your car.
- Talk to your pharmacist for advice about how to store your medicines.
What else can I do?
If you live alone:
- Know who to call if you need help during extreme heat. Talk to your family, friends, neighbours or carers about how they could help you. It could be as simple as checking in on you, stocking your fridge with cool drinks or helping you turn on the air-conditioner.
- Talk to your doctor about the services available in your community that can assist you at home during periods of hot weather.
- Read the factsheets about coping with hot weather from Australian Red Cross (www.redcross.org.au/files/SENIORS_Heatwave_Factsheet_Dec2010.pdf)
- Visit the NPS MedicineWise website (www.nps.org.au/how-to-prevent-heat-exhaustion), or
- Have a family member or friend check the health department website in your state or territory.
- Talk to your doctor before changing, stopping or starting any medicines.
- If you feel unwell in the hot weather seek medical advice from your doctor or the nearest hospital.
- In an emergency call 000 for an ambulance.