With hot conditions forecast for the coming days and lingering poor air quality due to bushfire smoke, Hunter New England Local Health District is urging people to take necessary precautions to reduce their risk of illness.
Public health physician Dr David Durrheim is advising people to avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day, not to overdo physical activity, and to keep well hydrated.
"We're expecting temperatures over 40 for some areas of NSW," Dr Durrheim said.
"This is the first really hot period of summer and I'd encourage everyone to take the risk of heat-related illness seriously."
Dr Durrheim said heatwaves could cause severe illness, hospital admission and even death, and advised that people were more sensitive to heatwaves early in the season.
People over 75, people with chronic medical conditions and people who live alone are particularly vulnerable.Dr David Durrheim
He added that the combination of heat and poor air quality increased the risk.
"Hot weather puts a lot of strain on the body, causes dehydration and can make underlying health conditions worse," he said.
"It also causes heat stress and heat stroke.
"People over 75, people with chronic medical conditions and people who live alone are particularly vulnerable."
However, he said people could reduce their risks with a few simple precautions.
"It's best to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, which is generally from about 11am to 4pm.
"Staying indoors also protects you from bushfire smoke.
"If you don't have air conditioning, using a fan can cool you down and keeping curtains shut helps to keep the heat out of your home.
"It's also important to minimise physical activity and to drink plenty of water."
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Dr Durrheim said it was also important to keep in contact with elderly neighbours, friends and relatives, who were often more vulnerable in hot conditions.
He advised that dizziness, tiredness, irritability, thirst, fainting, muscle pains or cramps, headache, changes in skin colour, rapid pulse, shallow breathing, vomiting and confusion could all be symptoms of heat-related illness.
"It's important to get to a cool place quickly if symptoms occur," Dr Durrheim said.
People showing severe signs of heat-related illness should seek urgent medical attention and in an emergency situation call 000.
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