Heat and health
Extreme heat can cause illness and death, but effective planning and actions can reduce its effects on health. Because effects of heat are associated with relative rather than absolute temperatures, even in New Zealand’s temperate climate people can experience negative health effects with modest increases in seasonal temperature.
There is no formal definition for heatwaves in New Zealand. However, climate change is predicted to cause both average and maximum temperatures to rise, and the number of hot days experienced in New Zealand is expected to increase.
Everyone is vulnerable to extreme heat. However, babies and infants, older people, those with pre-existing medical conditions or on certain medications, and people living alone are more at risk.
Many of the adverse health effects from excessive heat are preventable. Under normal warm conditions, the body regulates temperature by producing sweat that evaporates and cools the body. However, when a combination of high heat and high humidity occurs, the evaporation slows and the body must work harder to maintain a normal temperature. This extra work stresses the body and can lead to illness and death.
Guidelines to create Heat Health Plans
These Heat Health Plan Guidelines are aimed at health and community service providers, health sector organisations, local government and other community organisations to help them prepare their own heat health response plans.
Keeping cool in heat
Drink plenty of water
Stay hydrated with a regular intake of fluid. Try adding a slice of lemon, lime or mint to a jug of water in the fridge.
Cut down on alcohol
Water is the best form of fluid, alcohol can dehydrate you more in hot weather.
Eat frozen snacks
Try eating frozen banana or other fruit as a cool snack.
Stay out of the sun
Find shade outside wherever possible and stay indoors when you can.
Keep cool while exercising
Exercise or do outdoor activities early in the morning or later in the evening if possible.
Look out for your neighbours
Keep a close eye on neighbours, especially the elderly, to check they’re okay. Remember, children, older people or those with health concerns may find it more difficult to cope with the heat.
Never leave children unattended in parked cars
This is especially important on hot days.
Keep your house cool
Open windows and create a cross breeze or turn on the air conditioning.
Practice being sunsmart
If you have to be outside, remember to Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap.
- Slip on a shirt/top with long sleeves and a collar
- Slip into the shade
- Slop on sunscreen that is at least SPF 30, broad spectrum and water resistant, and apply 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours
- Slap on a wide brimmed hat
- Wrap on close-fitting sunglasses.
Keep your children cool
As the new school year begins, it’s important to keep your children safe – equip them with a water bottle, appropriate clothing, sunblock and a hat. Perhaps even add a chiller pad to their lunch to keep it cooler for longer.
Look after your pets
Keep them safe, hydrated and cool.
Don’t forget Healthline if you have concerns
Free health advice from trained registered nurses – 0800 611 116.
In the event of an emergency, unhealthy conditions can develop. You may survive a major disaster but be at risk of serious illness.
The impacts of climate change in Aotearoa New Zealand will become more pronounced as time goes on.