Heatwaves often occur in the Northern Territory, particularly inland from the Katherine region to Central Australia.

Heatwaves can cause people to suffer heat stress. This is when the body absorbs more heat than it can get rid of.

Heatwaves can be fatal if precautions are not taken.

At most risk are:

  • young children
  • the elderly
  • people with health problems.

How to prepare

If there is a heatwave you should:

  • wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose clothes and a wide-brimmed hat
  • avoid strenuous activities
  • drink at least 2 to 3 litres of water per day, even if you’re not thirsty
  • avoid alcoholic beverages and hot or sugary drinks, including tea and coffee, as they can make dehydration worse
  • avoid salt tablets unless prescribed by a doctor
  • avoid large servings of high-protein meals which raise your body's metabolism and heat, and increase fluid loss
  • keep your home cool with curtains, shutters or awnings on the sunny side and leave your windows open at night
  • use fans and damp towels if you don’t have air-conditioning to stay cool
  • have frequent cool showers
  • spend as much time as possible indoors in air-conditioning
  • avoid direct sunlight if possible
  • use strong sunscreen - at least SPF30 or above
  • do not leave children or pets in parked vehicles
  • see a doctor if you suffer chronic illness or feel unwell
  • give animals access to shade and plenty of water.


Read below to find out how to treat heat-related illnesses.

Heat cramps

Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms, usually in the stomach, arms or legs.

They can happen after strenuous activity in a hot environment when the body's salt and water are depleted.  They may be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

To treat heat cramps, you should stop what you’re doing and sit quietly in a cool place.  Drink water or fluids, rest a few hours and if there is no improvement, seek medical help.

Heat exhaustion

This is a serious condition that can develop into heat stroke.

Symptoms may include sweating and a rapid heart rate, muscle cramps or weakness, dizziness and headache, nausea or vomiting and fainting.

To treat heat exhaustion, you should lie down in a cool area, remove outer clothing, drink more fluids, wet skin with cool water or cloths and seek medical advice.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is life threatening. It occurs when the body can't cope with rapid temperature rises.

Symptoms may be the same as for heat exhaustion but the skin may not sweat. The person's mental state worsens. They may stagger, appear confused, have a fit or collapse, become unconscious or appear to have a stroke.

To treat heat stroke, call 000 for an ambulance, get the person to lie down in a cool area, remove clothing, wet their skin and fan them.

You should position unconscious people on their side to clear their airway.