When temperatures rise during the summer, it’s important to know the risks associated with excessive heat and take precautions to stay safe and healthy.
Be aware of the symptoms of heat-related illness, check on those at greater risk during extreme and prolonged periods of heat, and follow the tips below to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Symptoms of heat-related illness
Symptoms of heat-related illness can be mild to severe. They include:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Swelling, especially hands and feet
- Fatigue and weakness
- Light-headedness and/or fainting
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Extreme thirst
- Dark urine and increased urination
More severe symptoms require urgent medical attention. These include high body temperature, flushed skin, light-headedness and/or fainting, confusion, seizures and unconsciousness. Call 911, move to a cool place, and cool the person with water and fanning.
People at greater risk
Some people are at greater risk of heat-related illness. The most susceptible people include:
- Aged 60 or older
- People who live alone
- People with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or respiratory disease
- People with mental illness such as schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety
- People with substance use disorders
- People with limited mobility
- People who are marginally housed
- People who work in hot environments
- People who are pregnant
- Infants and young children
Drink more fluids regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Avoid liquids that contain alcohol, caffeine or large amounts of sugar, as these are less helpful in keeping your body hydrated.
For the most up-to-date information on cooling and misting centres during heat events, please visit your local municipal/regional district website.
If you stay inside
If possible, stay in an air-conditioned place when you are indoors.
- Close blinds and shutters during the day and open them at night. Open your windows at night to let in cooler air. If you have children in your home, make sure you’ve taken precautions to prevent falls from windows and balconies.
- If you have air conditioning, use it. If you don’t have air-conditioning, take shelter in the coolest room in your home.
- Try to stay in an air-conditioned location – such as a shopping mall or library – until outdoor temperatures have dropped.
- Indoor environments without effective air conditioning may become dangerously hot as temperatures increase over multiple days.
- Indoor temperatures typically peak around 8 p.m. and indoor environments may be most dangerous overnight. This is a good time to check the outside temperature – if it’s cooler than inside, open windows and doors.
- Sleep in the coolest room of the house, even if that is not your bedroom. If possible, sleeping in the basement or outside will provide overnight relief.
- Use multiple fans strategically to help move cooler air into the home overnight (fans alone do not lower core body temperature).
If you go outside
- Seek cooler, breezier areas when outdoors, such as large parks near to water with lots of trees.
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activities during the hottest time of the day – this applies to exercise and work activities.
- Take it slow with outdoor activities – try to rest often in shaded areas.
- Consider your neighbours: be respectful of pets and humans that need to rest/rehydrate in the shade at new locations temporarily.
- NEVER leave children or pets alone in a parked car. Temperatures can rise rapidly to dangerous levels in enclosed vehicles. Be sun-safe and remember to protect yourself from the heat! Visit Sun Protection for tips and guidance.
- Community Virtual Care
If you experience mild to moderate symptoms of heat-related illness (such as, but not limited to: dizziness, nausea/vomiting, muscle cramps, weakness) and are eligible for Community Health Services (see criteria below), then Island Health’s Community Virtual Care program may be able to support you. Using remote patient monitoring tools, you will have the support of a registered nurse to monitor your symptoms.
The nurse will contact you to review your results, answer your questions, and communicate with your doctor or nurse practitioner.
- Canadian citizenship
- 19 years of age or older
- Must be a resident of B.C. for three months
- Unable to function independently because of chronic, health-related problems; or require end-of-life care for a life-limiting condition; or require care following discharge from hospital; or health conditions require care at home rather than hospitalization
If you or a family member meet these and have mild to moderate symptoms of heat-related illness, call your local CHS Intake Office to self-refer to the program:
North Island: 1-866-928-4988
Central Island: 1-877-734-4101
South Island: 1-888-533-2273
This program is not a replacement for hospitalization or doctor/nurse practitioner visits. Seek medical attention if you have life-threatening or significant symptoms. Rapid heart rate >130 beats/min, confusion/disorientation, rapid breathing, temperature greater than 39 degrees Celsius along with hot dry skin are signs of heat stroke and should be directed to the nearest Emergency Department for assessment.
- Dual smoke and extreme heat events
Stay cool by using an air conditioner. Be sure to turn on “recirculate” (instead of bringing in outdoor air) and use a HEPA filter in your ventilation system (which may include an air conditioner). If you do not have an air conditioner, it may not be safe to stay inside with doors and windows closed when it is hot outside. For more, visit Health Canada.
Overheating is generally a bigger risk to health than smoke inhalation. Many people are at risk of potentially severe injury and death if they overheat, while a much smaller proportion are at risk of severe acute respiratory or cardiovascular attack. Individuals most at risk from smoke are also at risk from heat. Therefore, most people should prioritize staying as cool as possible in very hot weather.
Both heat and smoke are important environmental exposures and their risks may be compounding when they happen at the same time. Seek cooler, cleaner indoor air – at home if possible, and elsewhere if not.
- Resources for heat safety
- Health Canada Staying Healthy in the Heat
- HealthLink BC Beat the Heat
- Prepared BC Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide
- Health Emergency Management BC, First Nations Health Authority and Island Health Extreme Heat Information for Community Health Partners and Local Governments