People most at risk from heatwaves
Information for older people, children and babies, and other people at higher risk of heat-related illness.
Why some people are more at risk from heat-related illness
Hot weather can lead to dehydration or overheating, which in turn can lead to heat stroke or exhaustion.
People in certain age groups, situations, or with underlying health conditions can have a higher risk of illness and need to take greater care.
Learn more about preventing heat-related illness and staying healthy in the heat.
In very hot weather, sweat is produced to keep the body cool and prevent body temperature rising to dangerous levels. Elderly people, young children, and people taking certain medications often have difficulty producing sweat. They are at risk of their body temperatures rising rapidly.
Those who are most at risk from severe heat:
- People over 65
- Babies and young children
- People who are overweight or obese
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- People with poor mobility
- Homeless people
- People working in a hot environment
- People who are socially isolated
- People who have a chronic illness (such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, kidney disease or mental illness)
- People who have an acute illness (an infection with fever or gastroenteritis)
- People taking certain medications (check with your GP).
Find out about the signs of heat-related illness and first aid.
Keeping babies and children safe in the heat
Babies and children overheat and dehydrate more quickly than adults. This means you should take steps to help babies and children stay cool and look out for warning signs of heat-related illness.
Some tips include:
- Breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby more often.
- Offer older babies and children extra drinks in hot weather — the best drink is water.
- Dress babies and children in cool clothing and protect them from the sun with hats and sunscreen.
- Never leave babies or children in the car.
- If your child is sick (with fever, vomiting, diarrhoea or even a mild cold), they need extra attention to ensure they stay well hydrated and don’t overheat. See your GP if your child is unwell.
Some of the warning signs of heat-related illness in babies and young children are:
- looking unwell and more irritable than usual
- pale and clammy skin
- being sleepy and floppy
- fewer wet nappies or nappies not as wet as usual, or
- the soft spot on top of their head (fontanelle) may be sunken.
If you think your baby or young child is suffering from heat exhaustion, seek medical advice.
Drinking enough fluids is vital
Babies and young children can't always communicate that they are thirsty. Ensure they have extra drinks or are breastfed more often to avoid them overheating.
You can also take the following steps:
- Offer small amounts of cooled boiled water to babies over 6 months old, in addition to milk feeds.
- Use a towel or nappy between yourself and your baby when feeding them to avoid the extra heat of skin contact.
- 6 to 8 pale wet nappies in a 24-hour period is a good indicator that babies are getting enough fluids.
- Drink plenty of water yourself when breastfeeding.
- Water is the best drink for children (fruit juice and fizzy drinks are not recommended).
How to keep children cool
Dress children in light, loose clothing to keep them cool. Sunscreen and a hat can help protect them from the sun.
Other tips for keeping babies and children cool:
- Use the coolest room in the house for them to sleep in. Close the curtains, but make sure air can circulate around the cot, bassinette or bed. Prams can become very hot, so avoid leaving babies sleeping in them.
- Damp cloths and wet towels around the cot help to cool the air around them, but check often to make sure they are not getting too cold.
- A lukewarm bath or a sponge down with lukewarm water is better than cold water, and never use ice in the water.
- Fans should be used to keep air circulating, but keep them out of reach and don't point directly at children.
- 24 to 26 degrees Celsius is low enough for room temperature when using an air conditioner.
- Shopping centres, cinemas or libraries are great places to cool down if you don't have air conditioning.
- Keep children inside during the hottest parts of the day (between 11am and 5pm), and play outside in the early morning, late afternoon or evening.
Never leave babies or children in cars
Babies, children or pets shouldn't be left alone in a car even for a moment. They can overheat very quickly. Most of the temperature increase occurs within 5 minutes of closing the car.
Use sunshades on windows when travelling with a baby in the car and try to travel in the cooler hours of the day.
An enclosed pram can also become very hot. Ensure air circulates around your baby by removing back panels or using a more open stroller. Only cover the pram with a light cloth.