What is sunstroke? Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, treatment, and how long it lasts

With most of the UK enjoying heatwave conditions this summer, people are at increased risk of sunstroke

Since we don’t enjoy much good weather in the UK, when the sun shines it’s normal for Brits to head outside to soak up as much heat as possible.

But as well as sunburn, a downside of heatwave conditions is sunstroke – or heatstroke.

Here’s what you need to know about sunstroke and heatstroke, including signs, symptoms, treatment - and how you can help to prevent it.

With many of us enjoying plenty of sunshine during May, and with more sun to come hopefully this summer, people are at increased risk of sunstroke (Photo: Shutterstock)

How can I check for signs of heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is not usually serious if you can cool down within a period of time. However, it can sometimes turn into heatstroke.

The NHS notes that signs of heat exhaustion include:

- 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

- temperature of 38C or above

- being very thirsty

How can I cool someone down?

If someone has heat exhaustion, follow these 4 steps:

- Move them to a cool place.

- Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.

- Get them to drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are ok.

- Cool their skin. Spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are good.

They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes, and you should stay with them until they are back to normal.

The symptoms are often the same in adults and children, but children may become floppy and sleepy.

If someone is showing signs of heat exhaustion, they need to be cooled down.

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What are the signs of heatstroke?

You should call 999 if you or someone else have any signs of heatstroke, which include:

- feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water

- not sweating even though too hot

- a temperature of 40C or above

- fast breathing or shortness of breath

- feeling confused

- a fit (seizure)

- loss of consciousness

- not responsive

The NHS says: “Heatstroke can be very serious if not treated quickly.

“Put the person in the recovery position if they lose consciousness while you're waiting for help.”

How long does sunstroke last?

The NHS website notes, “Heat exhaustion is not usually serious if you can cool down within 30 minutes. If it turns into heatstroke, it needs to be treated as an emergency."

Harvard Health Publishing explains, “It is standard for a person with heat stroke to stay in the hospital for one or more days so that any complications can be identified quickly.

Complete recovery from heat stroke and its effects on body organs may take two months to a year.”

How can I prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke?

The NHS explains that there's a high risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke during hot weather or exercise.

To help prevent heat exhaustion or heatstroke, you should:

- drink plenty of cold drinks, especially when exercising

- take cool baths or showers

- wear light-coloured, loose clothing

- sprinkle water over skin or clothes

- avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm

- avoid excess alcohol

- avoid extreme exercise

This will also prevent dehydration and help your body keep itself cool.

The NHS adds, “Keep an eye on children, the elderly and people with long-term health conditions (like diabetes or heart problems) because they're more at risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.”