Keep that water bottle handy — doctors have warned that the severe heatwave affecting much of Queensland this week poses a real threat to human life.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) Queensland has issued a warning that heatwaves are the most deadly natural phenomenon in Australia, claiming around 500 lives each year.

“The public needs to realise that extreme heat is a killer and take warnings seriously,” says Dr Richard Kidd, a Brisbane GP and AMA Queensland board member.

“Hundreds die each year as a direct result of heat and the peak time for deaths is right now. This is a very dangerous time, especially for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, babies, pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and the sick.”

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has warned that central and northern Queensland will experience ‘extreme’ and ‘severe’ heatwave conditions for the next few days. While Brisbane will avoid the worst of it, this still isn’t the time to build your outdoor ice skating rink, as BoM has recently warned Brisbane residents to expect hotter-than-usual conditions.

To beat the heat, AMA Queensland is urging people to follow this advice:

  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty.
  • Spend as much time as possible in air-conditioned surroundings.
  • Keep cool by using wet towels and taking cool showers.
  • Stay out of the sun during the hottest parts of the day.
  • If you have to go outside, stay in the shade and take water with you.
  • Wear a hat and light, loose-fitting clothing.

Telltate symptoms of heat exhaustion include a pale complexion, sweating, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and fainting.

If that sounds like you, AMA Queensland says you need to seek a cool area, lie down, drink cool water, and remove your outer clothing.

Oh, and contact your GP — because if left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, involving possible seizure, collapse and loss of consciousness.

How have you stayed cool this summer? Share your tips in the comments below!