Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Heat exhaustion is not serious and usually gets better when you cool down. If it turns into heat stroke it needs to be treated as an emergency.

Check for signs of heat exhaustion

The 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
  • intense thirst

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

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

Things you can do to cool someone down

Follow these 4 steps:

  1. Move them to a cool place.
  2. Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.
  3. Get them to drink plenty of water (sports or rehydration drinks are ok).
  4. Cool their skin - spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them (ice packs around the armpits or neck are good too).

Stay with them until they are better.

They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes.

Call 999 if the person:

  • is no better after 30 minutes
  • feels hot and dry
  • is not sweating even though they are too hot
  • has a temperature that's risen to 40C or above
  • has rapid or shortness of breath
  • is confused
  • has a fit (seizure)
  • loses consciousness
  • is unresponsive

These can be signs of heat stroke.

While you wait for help, keep giving first aid and put them in the recovery position if they lose consciousness.

Preventing heat exhaustion and heat stroke

There is a high risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke during hot weather or exercise.

To help prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke:

  • 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.

How to spot dehydration

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.

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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