What are the symptoms of sun stroke and heat exhaustion?

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  • The hot weather is back! But with temperatures likely to soar up to 30 degrees during the summer, do you know the symptoms of sun stroke and heat exhaustion?

    When the temperature rises so does your risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. A heatwave can trigger more attacks and age may make you more susceptible, says Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones.

    ‘If it’s really hot, it may be best to stay in the shade or indoors,’ she says, ‘especially if you have medical conditions, take regular medication or are frail or elderly.’

    What is sunstroke / heatstroke?

    Sunstroke, also known as heatstroke, is a condition caused by your body overheating – to a temperature above 70C (104F).

    It may start as heat exhaustion (more details about this below), and is rarely serious if you cool your body down immediately. But if your body temperature rises, heat exhaustion can develop into heatstroke which is a serious medical emergency. ‘Seek urgent medical help,’ says Dr Mel, ‘as heatstroke can trigger confusion, convulsions and unconsciousness.’

    Heat stroke symptoms

    How to recognise sunstroke symptoms:

    Symptoms may start suddenly or slowly,’ says Dr Mel. Signs of heat exhaustion can include:

    • A headache
    • Dizziness and confusion
    • Excessive sweating
    • Clammy, pale skin
    • Stomach, leg and arm cramps
    • Feeling breathless
    • A fast pulse-rate
    • A temperature above 38C
    • Excessive thirst
    • Reduced, darker coloured urine
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea and/or vomitting
    • Children may become sleepy or floppy

    If you think someone may have heatstroke call 999 and take immediate action to cool them down with the advice above. Heatstroke is often characterised by a lack of sweating.

    ‘It needs urgent treatment,’ says Dr Mel ‘including lying down in the shade or an air-conditioned room, removing clothing to allow sweating and cooling skin with cold wet flannels and a fan, as well as drinking water or juice or rehydration drinks.

    While waiting for the ambulance:

    • Move the person somewhere cooler
    • Loosen clothes and sprinkle them with cool water, or use a cool damp sheet
    • If they are conscious, give them water
    • Do not give them paracetamol or aspirin

    To keep your body cool and well hydrated try to:

    • Drink plenty of cold drinks. Water or juice are best, says Dr Mel. ‘Sweating causes water and salt loss, and you could develop heat exhaustion or heat- or sunstroke as your body heats up, you become dehydrated and your blood pressure falls.’
    • Take a cool shower or bath.
    • Wear light-coloured clothing to reflect light and heat.
    • Spray a mist of water over your skin and clothes to help keep you cool.
    • Stay out of the sun, especially when it’s at its hottest – between 11am and 3pm.
    • Avoid too much alcohol – it interfers with your body’s temperature regulation.
    • Avoid strenuous exercise – this can also trigger heat exhuastion and heatstroke.

    Credit: Getty Images

    What is heat exhausation?

    Heat exhaustion is less serious than heat stroke, but should still be treated quickly to prevent it developing in to heat stroke.

    Signs of heat exhaustion:

    • Headaches
    • Dizziness
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Muscle weakness or cramps
    • Pale skin
    • High temperature

    What to do when heat exhaustion symptoms appear:

    • Move somewhere cool
    • Drink plenty of water or fruit juice
    • Take a lukewarm shower or sponge yourself with cold water

    Of course, it’s always best to pre-empt the symptoms, by following all of the above steps to keep yourself healthy; drinking plenty of water, staying inside, staying in the shade where possible, and avoiding any strenuous exercise in hot weather.

    What you need to know about UK heatwaves

    What is a heat wave?

    A heat wave is defined as prolonged period of abnormally hot weather.

    There are four different heatwave levels.

    Level 1 – Green: This is the ‘normal’ state, where there is no more than a 50% risk of heatwave. People should just be aware of the risks of heat and the need to keep cool.

    Level 2 – Amber: Alert and readiness – there’s now a 60% chance that ‘threshold’ temperatures will be reached for 2 or more days. ‘Threshold’ temperatures vary from region to region around the country, but are around 30°C during the day and 15°C at night.

    Level 3 – Red: Heatwave action – this stage is reached when threshold temperatures have been reached in at least one region around the country.

    Level 4 – Red Emergency: When the Heatwave Plan hits 4, the situation is extremely serious – this is when the heatwave is so severe that it’s likely to cause power or water shortages.

    how to cope with a heatwave

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    Who is most at risk during a UK heatwave?

    Of course, we should all be careful during a heatwave, protecting ourselves from the damaging rays of the sun as much as we can.

    But some people are particularly vulnerable during hot weather, including babies and young children, older people, people with long-term health conditions, and those who are very physically active a lot, such as athletes or outdoor labourers.

    READ MORE: Top tips on how to keep cool in hot weather during pregnancy

    Practical tips on how to cope in hot weather

    • Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours, particularly the elderly or infirm, who may be less able to look after themselves in the heat.
    • Shut and shade windows when it’s hotter outside and open them for ventilation when it’s cooler outside – generally late evenings and early mornings are not as hot, so make sure you have your windows open at these times to let the cooler air in.
    • If you’re vulnerable to the effects of heat, avoid going out between 11am-3pm. Temperatures can continue to increase until about 5pm however, so make sure to stay equally protected and cautious until the early evening too.
    • Drink cold drinks like water or fruit juice regularly and avoid tea, coffee and alcohol – these drinks act as a diuretic and so can actually dehydrate you, at a time when you need as much hydration as possible!
    • Stay tuned to the weather forecast and plan ahead with supplies for any trips out. Make sure to watch out for advice from weather professionals too, as you would in any kind of extreme weather.
    • Stay in the shade where possible, wear a wide brimmed hat and protect yours and your children’s skin with plenty of suncream – SPF 30 is advised at a minimum. These tips especially apply to kids, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the sun.
    • Some weather experts also advise putting your bed sheets in the freezer a few hours before you head to bed, to create a cooler environment for sleeping in hot weather.

    How to cope with hot weather for homeowners

    There are lots of ways to keep your home cool in the summer. Homeowners can take other practical steps to cool down a house during the summer, including:

    • Shading south and west-facing windows
    • Painting buildings and surrounding walls white to reflect heat
    • Planting small trees and shrubs around buildings to deflect heat
    • Replacing metal blinds with curtains with white linings to reflect heat outwards where possible.