Baby boy with sunscreen

Tips to beat the heat and stay safe in the sun.

Extreme heat and your health

Our health region has moderate temperatures. However, as the climate warms in the summer, extreme heat can cause health impacts, particularly early in the season, resulting in heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, worsening pre-existing health conditions. In extreme situations, this can lead to permanent disability or death. 

Watch for these heat notifications issued in the Fraser Health Region:

To provide the public and partner organizations with a warning of the health risk from heat events, temperature thresholds have been established by the BC Center for Disease Control in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, and B.C. health authorities.

  • Heat warning (level 1): Get ready, take action.

    Environment and Climate Change Canada issues a heat warning when:

    • Southwest (Includes the North Shore, Vancouver, Richmond, Howe Sound, Whistler, Pemberton and the Sunshine Coast as well as Eastern Metro Vancouver including Coquitlam, Surrey, and the Fraser Valley): Warnings are issued for both Coastal and Inland sections if either criteria are met:
      • Coastal station (Vancouver Airport): Two or more consecutive days of daytime maximum temperatures are expected to reach 29°C or warmer and nighttime minimum temperatures are expected to be at 16°C or warmer.
      • Inland station (Abbotsford Airport): Two or more consecutive days of daytime maximum temperatures are expected to reach 33°C or warmer and nighttime minimum temperatures are expected to be at 17°C or warmer.
    • Northwest (Central and Northern Coast; inland and coastal regions, Northern Vancouver Island, and Northwestern BC):
      • Two or more consecutive days of daytime maximum temperatures are expected to reach 28°C or warmer and nighttime minimum temperatures are expected to be at 13°C or warmer.

    According to historical BCCDC data, the heat warning criteria indicate temperatures at which an increase in deaths in the community is expected.

    Note that different temperature thresholds are set for different parts of the province, as the relationship between heat and mortality differs. Learn more about heat alert criteria for other regions (map).

  • Extreme heat alert (Level 2): Southwest region only: Take action now.

    For the Southwest region (defined above), Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health will on occasion issue a joint extreme heat alert when the expected risk to the public is extremely high:

    • Calculated when the two-day average of high temperatures is predicted to reach 36°C or higher at the Abbotsford Airport and/or is predicted to reach 31°C or higher at the Vancouver airport, based on the temperatures measured at 2 p.m. This is based on current and forecasted temperature criteria recommended by the BCCDC in addition to a health authority assessment of anticipated risk to health.

    The extreme heat alert criteria indicate temperatures at which a larger increase in deaths in the community is expected. During the 2009 extreme hot weather event there was a 40% increase in regional mortality over a one-week period.

    The extreme heat alert triggers additional responses from the health authority, local government and partner organizations as well as public messaging to strongly encourage individuals and communities to be aware of the risk and take action to stay cool.

Watch for the symptoms of heat illness: 

  • Dizziness/fainting
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Extreme thirst
  • Decreased urination with unusually dark urine
  • Confusion or changes in behavior
  • High body temperature
  • Lack of coordination 

If you think someone might have heat stroke, call 9-1-1.

Some individuals are at higher risk for heat-related illness, including:

  • Older adults.
  • Infants and young children.
  • People with chronic illnesses, including those who have cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, renal disease or psychiatric illness.
  • People who are physically impaired, including those who are confined to bed, need assistance with daily living or who have sensory/cognitive impairment.
  • People taking certain medications, including high blood pressure medicines, antidepressants, antipsychotics or anti-Parkinson’s agents.
  • People who are socially disadvantaged due to low income, being homeless or living alone.
  • Newcomers to Canada.
  • Occupational groups who work outdoors or who have increased physical strain.
  • People who are physically active with increased physical strain with a reduced perception of risk.

*If you are taking medication, particularly for mental illness, heart disease or Alzheimer’s disease, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether it increases your health risk in the heat and follow their recommendations. 

Tips for everyone:

  • Follow media warnings for incoming heatwaves:
    • Leading up a heatwave, develop and practice a cooling plan; 
      • Identify cool spaces and prepare to use them at night
      • Make ice, ready jugs for water, check that you have a working fan
      • Contact friends, family or neighbours if you will be checking on them or vice versa
      • Review signs of heat stress
  • Drink plenty of water even before you feel thirsty and stay in a cool place.
  • Ask a health professional how medications or health conditions can affect your risk in the heat.
  • Create a cool environment in your home, as the longer a heat event lasts, the more dangerous indoor conditions without air-conditioning (AC) can become:
    • If you have AC, use it to maintain a cool space in your home during a heat event
    • It can get dangerously, life-threateningly hot indoors without AC. If AC is not available, stay in the coolest room in your home.
    • To cool off without AC, consider setting up fans in front of ice trays, using personal misters, or cool, damp clothing or sheets.
    • Shut doors and windows and pull curtains to keep the sun out. Open windows in the evening as temperatures cool.
    • If you have children in your home, make sure you’ve taken precautions to prevent falls from windows and balconies.
    • The mobility challenged have particular concerns which may require reconfiguring daily living arrangements to deal with heat episodes.
    • Cool/tepid showers or baths and misting yourself and your clothing with cool water will help keep you from overheating.
  • Check on older family, friends and neighbours to see if they are cool and drinking water (more details below). If they do not have the means to cool themselves, offer to help get them to a local cooling shelter, if possible.
  • Schedule outdoor activities only during the coolest time of the day, avoiding 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. when temperatures are at their highest.
    • If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of non-alcoholic fluids each hour. Limit outdoor activity during the day to early morning and evening.
  • Never leave people or pets inside a parked vehicle during warm weather.
  • Seek a cool place such as a tree-shaded area, swimming pool, shower/bath, or air-conditioned spot like a public building, but be mindful to avoid crowded spaces and maintain a two-metre distance from others.

Caring for and checking on others:

  • People living alone are at high risk of severe heat-related illness. Check in regularly for signs of heat-related illness amongst those who live alone, particularly older people, those with mental illness or those who are unable to leave their homes that do not have air conditioners.
    • Some of the people, including seniors, most susceptible to severe heat-related illness and death may not perceive that they are getting too hot. Check on them in person to evaluate the temperature indoors; if you can only check in on them by phone, ask them to tell you what it says on their thermostat. Persistent indoor temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius can be high risk.
      • If they are experiencing high temperatures and are not able to cool themselves, ask to take them to a nearby cooling shelter if available.
    • Advise those in your care that a cool or tepid bath can help, as well as a legs-only bath for those with mobility issues or those who may require assistance.
    • If you are a caregiver, keep a close eye on those in your care by visiting them at least twice a day, and ask yourself these questions:
      • Are they drinking enough water?
      • Do they have access to air conditioning?
      • Do they know how to keep cool?
      • Do they show any signs of heat stress?
  • Call your local municipality or check their website for locations of air conditioned cooling centres for those who need them. During extreme heat events, local authorities are advised not to turn anyone away due to physical distancing concerns, as extreme weather is a more immediate risk. If needed, offer to transport people in your care.
  • If someone seems unwell due to extreme heat, move them to a cool shady spot, help them get hydrated, sponge or spray with cool water, fan the person, and call for medical assistance if required.

Tips to avoid sunburns 

  • When possible, schedule outdoor activities in the morning or late afternoon/early evening.
  • Stay in the shade and out of the hot sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Look for places with lots of shade, such as a park with big trees. Take an umbrella or tent to the beach.
  • Cover up. If you are out in the sun during mid-day hours, wear long sleeves, loose-fitting long pants and a hat with a wide brim (baseball caps do not provide enough protection).
  • Wear sunglasses that provide UVA and UVB protection. They will provide protection against eye damage.
  • Use a sunscreen lotion or cream that is Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 or more. If you work outdoors or are planning to be outside most of the day, use one with SPF 30 or more.
  • Put sunscreen on your skin 20 minutes before you go out and reapply 20 minutes after being out in the sun to ensure even application and better protection.
  • Use sunscreen even on hazy or overcast days.
  • DO NOT apply sunscreen to babies under six months old. Babies should be kept out of the direct sun as much as possible.
  • NEVER use baby oil to protect children from the sun. It will NOT protect them.
  • Sunscreen can’t block all the sun’s rays. Use it along with shade, clothing and hats, not instead of them.
  • Don't forget your lips, ears and nose and the tops of your feet. These parts of your body burn easily.
  • Re-apply sunscreen after you go swimming or if you are sweating.

Resources

Download extreme heat poster PDF 

Resources to protect vulnerable individuals from extreme heat: