Heat exhaustion vs heatstroke: symptoms, treatment and when to seek help

·3-min read
Heat exhaustion vs heatstroke: symptoms, treatment and when to seek help

As temperatures hit 40C, breaking records for the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK, it’s more important than ever to stay safe during this heatwave.

The Met Office has issued the first-ever red warning for extreme heat, the UK has warned that “Population-wide adverse health effects” are expected, which will not be “limited to those most vulnerable to extreme heat, leading to serious illness or danger to life.”

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, encouraged people to take care of each other and said on Twitter: “Please remember the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, especially for older and medically vulnerable people.

“Early intervention to cool people down and rehydrate them can be lifesaving.”

Find out the warning signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke below, and how to treat someone who is suffering.

Heat exhaustion symptoms

People who spend time in extreme temperatures can suffer from the following heat exhaustion symptoms, according to the NHS:

  • a 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

Heat exhaustion is not usually serious if the affected person can cool down within half an hour. They can usually be treated at home by moving them to a cool place and having them lie down with their feet raised lightly.

They should drink plenty of water or sports drinks and should cool their skin with sprays, sponges, cold packs, and fans. The symptoms should ease within 30 minutes.

However, if left untreated, heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke, which is serious if not treated quickly and may result in the affected person needing emergency care.

UK Weather: Summer Heatwave 2022

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke is serious and needs to be treated as an emergency.

Symptoms of heatstroke include fast breathing or shortness of breath, a fit (seizure), loss of consciousness, and becoming unresponsive. If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, the NHS says to call 999.

Other signs of heatstroke include feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water, not sweating even while feeling too hot, a high temperature of 40C or above, or feeling confused. If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, the NHS recommends calling 111.

How to prevent heat exhaustion

To prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke, the NHS recommends doing the following:

  • 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 11 am and 3 pm

  • avoid excess alcohol

  • avoid extreme exercise

The NHS also says to “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.”

The NHS has also warned that hospitals will be stretched during the heatwave, while they’re also dealing with Covid cases.

Health secretary Steve Barclay told the BBC: “The clear message to the public is to take the sensible steps in terms of water, shade and cover, that many people are aware of. That’s the best way of mitigating against the heat.

“We’re asking people to keep an eye out for their neighbours and those who may be vulnerable. We’re also putting in additional contingency support as well.”

Europe Hot Weather: Summer 2022 Heatwave

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