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The difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke

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It is hot at the moment, I think we are all feeling that! With the height of summer upon us at the moment, I thought I would take the time to write my monthly blog on the effects of heat on our bodies.. Specifically I want to give you some key differences between heat exhaustion (nasty but easily treatable) and heat stroke (nasty and needing medical support).

What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses excess amounts of water and salt, typically from sweating. On the other hand, heat stroke is a serious medical emergency that occurs when your body is unable to control its internal temperature. Heat exhaustion, with rest and water can easily be rectified but heat stroke is unable to be regulated by rest and water and can ultimately lead to death.

What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?

With heat exhaustion you might see any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Loss of appetite and feeling sick
  • Excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
  • Cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
  • Fast breathing or pulse
  • A high temperature of 38c or above
  • Being very thirsty

For heatstroke, these symptoms won’t go away after 30 minutes, a temperature will have risen to 40c and they may not be sweating at all.

Things to do to stoke heat exhaustion from occurring

– In the heat, children (and us adults!) should take regular breaks from running around to give their bodies the chance to cope with the heat.

– In the heat of the day, and when we are feeling too hot, we should be finding shady places to rest. Paddling pools and water sprinklers are great ways to cool us down too.

– And in the heat we should be drinking lots of water as we get dehydrated easily. Things like water based ice lollies or fruit and salad are good sources of water too.

– For the evenings a cool bath before bedtime can really cool us down and shutting the curtains in the bedroom all day and putting a fan on to circulate air are good ways to keep out some heat

What to do if you think someone if suffering with heat exhaustion?

  • Move them to a cool place
  • Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly
  • Get them to drink plenty of water.
  • Cool their skin with cool water and fan them. Cold packs can be put under their arms and around their neck.
  • Stay with them until they feel better (They should start cooling down within 30 minutes)

What do you do if you think someone is suffering with heat stroke?

Call 999 if they:

  • Are breathing very fast or have shortness of breath
  • Have a fit (seizure)
  • Lose consciousness
  • Are not responsive

Call 111 if they are:

  • feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
  • not sweating even while feeling too hot
  • suffering with a high temperature of 40C or above
  • feeling confused

Still unsure? Here is a personal example.. Yesterday my four year old son was really feeling the heat. He was drinking lots of water, he wasn’t outside all the time, and he wore a hat and sun cream when he was but he was refusing to eat lunch, was complaining his legs hurt and was getting generally more and more lethargic until he passed out (fell into a deep sleep) lying on the floor. It took a fair bit to wake him and when we did, we got him sitting in a shaded cool room with water and a roll and watched him slowly eat and drink and start to perk up. This was heat exhaustion. After he had sat for a while in a cool place and eaten some food, he started getting back to his normal self and was able to carry on his day as normal. If he hadn’t have felt better after 30minutes I would have called 111 for further advice.

I really hope you get to enjoy the sun over the next few days/weeks but do treat the sun with respect. If you would like more hints and tips on all things basic first aid, head over to my Instagram page: or Facebook

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