How fast can a heatwave kill you?

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A heatwave is sweeping the nation and Australians are being urged to stay cool and safe over the next few days. The heatwave started in Western Australia, where residents are today returning to bushfire-ravaged homes. Now the weather front is moving to the south eastern states of the country, with Melbourne expected to reach 43 degrees later today. The south eastern states are expecting temperatures to remain around 40 degrees until late Friday, the hottest run of temperatures seen in this area since just before the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009. Melbourne has not experienced such extreme heat since the early 1900s.

The Victorian Department of Health has issued its first ‘heat health’ alert of the summer. The elderly, the frail and those with pre-existing medical conditions are at greatest risk of heat-related disease. The last time the south eastern states experienced a similar heatwave, 370 people died from heat related illness. During this period there was a 25 per cent increase in ambulance callouts, so ambulance services in these states have been undertaking preparations to cope with expected increase in cases of heat-related illness.

Victorian Government Health Minister David Davis is urging citizens to use their common sense and stay cool. “Obviously the elderly are at risk and those living alone or having a disability or who are otherwise unwell will be particularly vulnerable.”

Heatwaves can affect anybody. Illnesses caused by heat range from heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, a condition which can be fatal. Heat may also worsen the condition of someone with a pre-existing health problem, such as heart disease.

In order to combat the heatwave, the Department of Health Victoria website suggests that you:

  • keep cool
  • drink plenty of water
  • stay out of the sun
  • look after yourself and others.

If you live in a poorly insulated building with no air conditioning, it is possible for the inside of your home to become almost 10 degrees hotter inside than out. Be aware of your living conditions and, if you are worried, be sure to stay with a friend who has air conditioning until the heatwave has passed. There is usually only a few degrees difference between the temperature being safe and dangerously hot, so it is also important to be aware of your own body and your surrounds.

Firefighters have also warned Australians to get their airconditioners checked, as at least 41 fires have been triggered by ageing airconditioners in the past two years. The heatwave is likely to put pressure on cooling units which have been left idle for months, so if you have an evaporative air conditioner, especially if it lives on the roof of your house where it is exposed to the elements, be sure to get it checked regularly.

Find out more about the situation in Western Australia.

Hear what Victorian Government Health Minister David Davis has to say about staying safe during a heatwave.

No matter where you are in Australia, stay on top of extreme weather warnings at the Bureau of Meteorology website.

Opinion: Surviving the heat

It’s all well and good to tell Australians to turn their well-maintained air conditioners on and stay cool, but what about those of us without the luxury of air conditioning? What can you do to ensure you and your loved ones stay safe during a heatwave?

The first step is to make a list of all the people you know who may be in danger. This includes people who live alone, in poor conditions, or those with pre-existing illnesses. Especially consider those people who are unlikely to seek help for themselves. Give the people on your list a call, and find out how they plan to stay cool and safe until the cool change comes through in a few days.

Next, prepare your home. It is a good idea to close the curtains or blinds to help stop the sun from heating up your house or apartment. The cooler you can keep your house at the beginning of a heatwave, the longer it will take to heat up. Hot air rises, so if you live in a two-storey home consider moving downstairs for a few days.

Water can be one of the simplest ways to cool down – try putting your feet in a bucket of cool water, draping a cool wet towel over the back of your neck or carrying a spray bottle to mist yourself with water from time to time.

If you don’t have air conditioning yourself, avoid the hottest parts of the day by visiting a public building. Libraries, cinemas and shopping centres are all usually well air conditioned.

In the event that you realise you or someone you know may be suffering from a heat-related health emergency, it is important to call 000 and explain your situation.

And finally, don’t forget that pets also suffer when the temperature rises, so be sure to make sure they have plenty to drink and a cool place to get away from the heat.

What about you? What are your tips for surviving a heatwave? After weeks of hot weather our Western Australian readers are experts in getting through a hot spell, so why not share your knowledge in the comments below?

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Total Comments: 23
  1. 0

    I sometimes use the gel ice packs you can get in the chemist. They are usually for injuries but keep them in the freezer and then use them like ‘cold water bottles’ at night. You can also wrap them in a small towel, put them on your pillow and sleep on that. It really works.Good for headaches too.

  2. 0

    As I am renting,I decided to buy a portable air conditioner this year,I highly recommend you to get a fairly decent one (cheaper ones are a waste of money) if you want it to work properly,so do some research. Put it on the credit card if you have to it is well worth it. Sip water all day rather than gulping glasses,I also recommend coconut water it is very re-hydrating,stay away from too much heavy foods,light eating is best,snack on celery and other high water content vegies or fruit.

    • 0

      I’ve also been thinking about purchasing a portable air-conditioner musicveg but having done the research at some length – it appears they aren’t really up to the task and the general consensus of those in the know seem to be that they carry a few problems and none of them aren’t worth the money! I’m still open to suggestions but what would you call a ‘fairly decent’ one?

    • 0

      ductape,i sell dimplex and olympia portable rac’s,they are effective if the correct size in relation to the room is purchased,and they MUST be ventilated through a sliding or sash window,with the kit supplied.They do not have the same amount of airflow as a split system,so as a guide the killowatt rating multiplied by 2 thirds will cool,so a 4kw unit will cool 24 sq mtrs.4kw x 3 =12×2=24sq mtrs.Hope this helps

    • 0

      Cheap portable a/c’s work quite well if used properly, most people don’t bother to read the instructions then complain when it doesn’t work as it should. They also work better if you buy some insulating stuff to wrap around that hose as it gets very hot.

  3. 0

    I live 30 minutes North of gawler S.A Adelaide 42c up here 45c.I have good Coolaroo Blinds outside,sunblock inside.overhead fans 3 rooms,air-con and misting fans.Hose the outside building twice a day drops temp. by 5-10deg.3 canaries large cage under trees towells 3 sides hose down several times a day.3 cats inside lucky buggers. Use a little common sense just sit the heat out inside till over.only with the misting fan on stays about 29c inside,outside 45c.

  4. 0

    I am surprise4d there are no usual whingers posting comments .

    Every article there is a whingeing possibility hundreds of comments are posted , but when asked for tips on helping people without air-con ………

    The best and cheapest thing to do for people that cannot afford today’s luxuries is to put a wet towel around one’s neck. keeps the person cool and also humidifies the air we breathe in.

    • 0

      Whinging about no whingers eh patcat?:)

    • 0

      somewhere in the comments whether posted by whingers or not there are always good ideas and good advise if you bother to read the comments objectively

    • 0

      temp.hit 50deg at 1-45pm hamley bridge that is something to whinge about

    • 0

      There is a special towel called Kool Towel (google it) which works wonders, just soak in water, wring then shake and wrap it around your neck, drape over legs etc. Must have some kind of chemical in it to keep it cold as it’s much better than the normal wet towel.

    • 0

      gee “iamnotold”, if you just get an ordinary towel, and soak in cool water that wrap it where you want it to be it will cool you enough for a while without buying that Kool towel rubbish and not cost you a penny more!

  5. 0

    My grandmothers ways of keeping cool before aircon. Keep the home dark. Tray of ice in front of a fan. Damp sheets over windows. Damp washing hung around the house. Dont use the oven to cook. No tight clothing and frequent cool showers that you dry off from naturally. Lemon in cool water to sip and cool food to eat.

    • 0

      I remember in the 60’s we had some very hot days, so hot that our Boss at work asked us to start work at 7.30am till 3pm. We didn’t have air conditioners in our office only large industrial fans. We used to soak the tea towels in cold water, wring them out and then tie them to the wire on the outside of the blades, then let the fans run at top speed., cooled down the office quickly. The only problem was when the towels dried we had to go through the same process again. It was all fun to us, we didn’t complain.

    • 0

      Yes SA sounds like you had a very wise grandmother. I do nearly the same Except i also put bottles of water into the freezer, and when its frozen i take it out and replace it with another. i like to sip on it as it melts, this helped me, and cause often in the heat some parts of your body will swell, putting an ice cold face washer on it will bring me relief.

  6. 0

    I think politicians should stop saying anything or giving advice that is not workable for people in rental accommodation and those without solar panels. It’s hypocritical without addressing the real issue.

  7. 0

    We have only tank water and rely exclusively on solar power so expensive air-conditioning and excessive use of water is out.

    What we do is have several showers a day (about six) but only use a cup or two of water at a time – just enough to get good and wet. This ‘waste’ water is collected to water the garden so in essence, none of it is wasted.
    The, without drying off, we clad ourselves in the barest of clothing, (if absolutely necessary) and let condensation do its work. Obviously visitors tend to upset this routine ?…. so plan ‘B’ is put into place. We don our bathers and I rig up a bush shower outside under a large tree and continue on as per normal – so to speak. For some reason, water falling from a bush shower gives the distinct impression that you’re taking a cold shower somewhere down in the Antarctic so you tend to cool off real quick!

    But the ‘Pièce de résistance’ is the trough! I bought a round plastic water trough, 500 litres in size, costing from memory about $250, (used normally for watering cattle in the paddock) and after filling it with precious water to about 40 cms in depth, we use this as our ‘pool’ – if things get really bad. You could use a kiddies pool, but a strong cattle trough is going to last you forever and you can at least lean against the side of it without having it collapse.

    Every few days, we drop in small piece of chlorine in tablet form, purchased from the produce place. This helps to keep the water relatively safe in terms of any nasties that might accumulate – and to help keep it clean otherwise, we ‘circle’ the water with our hands after use. This forces any dirt etc. to accumulate into the centre of the trough which is judiciously syphoned out the next day before use.

    A shade umbrella or two is erected and coupled with a bottle of wine in the evening (well, usually in the evening ?) we often relax and wonder how the poor people are getting on!

  8. 0

    Ductape, sounds as if he has got this heat problem sorted, but !! you live outside the Metro area by the sounds, anyway lots of great ideas here.

  9. 0

    …simple – this is for bed at night when it is really hot …….get a couple of empty Coke/lemonade bottles – 1.25 or 2 litre…….fill with water – stick in freezer…..when frozen take them up to bed…put one either side of you (or wherever you want it) and voila – cool easy resting…..they will last a good 3-5 hours ……(depending on how hot it is) 🙂

  10. 0

    I give the dog a good thorough hose down twice a day. She enjoys it and it helps me to know she is cool.



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