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Hot weather

Hot weather and Public Health

Image produced courtesy of the US CDC.

Extremely hot days are an emerging public health issue for New Zealand, and they have the potential to cause adverse health effects.

Who is at risk in hot weather?

All people may feel the effects of extremely hot weather but some people are more vulnerable:
  • Elderly people (particularly women, those with medical problems, and those who live alone, are socially isolated or are reliant on others).
  • Children (especially babies and young children).
  • People who work outdoors.
  • Obese and overweight people.
  • Hospital inpatient and nursing home residents.
  • People with medical problems/chronic disease.

Protecting yourself and your family in hot weather

  • Plan your day to avoid going out during the hottest part of the day.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Don't wait until you get thirsty. If going out, take some water with you. Always keep a bottle of water in the car.
  • Take regular breaks in the shade when outdoors
  • Wear light coloured, loose fitting clothing made of natural fibres such as cotton. Place a damp cloth/scarf/handkerchief on the back of the neck and head - Re-wet as needed.
  • Park your car in a shady spot or in a covered car park building: never leave children or animals unattended in cars.
  • Use sunscreen and re-apply regularly. Wear a hat, sunglasses and carry an umbrella to use as a sun shade. Splash or spray some water on arms and feet to cool off
  • Avoid alcoholic, caffeinated, hot or sugary drinks. Avoid heavy meals; eat salads and fruits instead.
  • Have cool showers or baths. Take a dip at the beach or swimming pool to cool off. Always ensure you adhere to water safety practices.
  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activity or exercise. Try and plan it for early morning or in the evening. 
  • Sleep in the coolest room if possible: use AC if you have it, or keep windows open.
  • Check on elderly, friends and neighbours daily, in case they're showing signs of dehydration: disorientation, drowsiness, lethargy, less mobility.
  • Go to cooler indoor areas: the mall, cinema, indoor pools.

When planning trips, take account of possible longer travelling times. Take water and sun protection with you for the journey. Keep your home and office first-aid kit and disaster management packs up to date. 

Remember that pets and animals are also prone to heat effects – keep them in the shade and provide plenty of water.

Staying cool indoors when it's hot outside

  • If the room is cooler than outside, keep windows closed and blinds down. Open the windows once the temperature outside is cooler.
  • Use a fan or air-conditioning unit where possible.
  • Consider using pale curtains or other reflective materials on windows.
  • Keep curtains closed or drapes drawn in rooms that get a lot of sun.
  • Try not to use the stove or oven very often.
  • Move to the coolest room in the house.

Older people who live alone may need to be checked on daily to ensure they are well.

Symptoms and basic management of heat related conditions

Heat Related Symptom

Signs and Symptoms 

Initial management

Mild and Moderate


A feeling of thirst, fatigue and light headedness. Can be associated with headaches. Constipation may occur with dehydration (especially in the elderly). 

Drink water or oral solutions containing electrolytes.

Rest in a cool area.

If symptoms do not improve seek medical attention.

If constipated discuss treatment options with a medical professional. 

Heat rash

Small red itchy rash on the face, neck, upper chest, under breast, groin and scrotum areas. Infection may occur.

Rash usually improves without treatment.

Minimise sweating by staying in an air-conditioned environment, taking frequent showers and wearing light clothes.

Keep the affected area dry.

Topical antihistamine and antiseptic creams may reduce discomfort and prevent secondary infection. 

Heat oedema (ankle swelling)

Swelling of the lower limbs, usually ankles.

Treatment is not required.

Usually subsides following acclimatisation to the heat. 

Heat fainting (syncope)

Brief loss of consciousness or dizziness on standing. 

The person affected should rest in a cool place and lie down with legs and hips elevated.


Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Seek medical attention to rule out other causes of faints.

Heat cramps

Painful muscular spasms, often in the legs, arms or abdomen.


Usually occurs at the end of sustained exercise. 

Immediate rest in a cool place.

Stretch muscles and massage gently.

Oral rehydration may be needed using a solution containing electrolytes.

Medical attention should be sought if heat cramps are sustained for more than one hour. 

Heat exhaustion

Symptoms of intense thirst, weakness, discomfort, anxiety, dizziness, fainting and headaches.

Move to a cool shaded room or airconditioned place.

Apply cold wet sheet or cold water spray and use a fan if available.

Dial 111 for an ambulance if concerned. 

Severe and Life-Threatening

Heat stroke 

Symptoms of confusion, disorientation, convulsions and unconsciousness. 

Dial 111 for an ambulance.

Worsening of pre-existing illness 

This is especially of concern in people with heart disease, strokes, and respiratory disease.

Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, depending on the disease.

This can include but is not limited to chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness or confusion.

Seek medical attention if you have a chronic condition and develop new symptoms.

If any severe symptoms, dial 111 for an ambulance.

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