The differences between heatstroke and sunstroke and the symptoms to look out for

The NHS has warned that there is a time limit on heatstroke before emergency help will be needed. 999 should be called if a person is unable to cool down within 30 minutes after showing heatstroke symptoms.

If left untreated heatstroke and sunstroke can lead to organ failure, brain damage and death, the NHS warns. Anyone who loses consciousness due to heatstroke should be put in the recovery position while waiting for medical help.

Heatstroke and sunstroke have the same symptoms, they are both caused by your body’s inability to cool itself and your body temperature reaches dangerously high levels. The key difference is that a heatstroke can happen without going out in the sun, for example if you’re stuck in a hot room with no fresh air. A sunstroke on the other hand is caused by getting too much direct sunlight.

Read more: How to tell if it’s too hot to walk your dog

Nevertheless, they are both serious. If you’re feeling unwell after a day in the sun, it’s possible heat exhaustion and when left untreated it can progress into a heatstroke.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke and sunstroke?

Although they both share the same symptoms, a clearer way of understanding the severity is by checking temperature. Anything above 38C indicates heat exhaustion while a temperature above 40C is a sign of heat stroke.

Consult a healthcare professional if you suspect a case of heat stroke. If you’re around 38C and are able to cool down within 30 minutes , heat exhaustion isn’t typically considered an emergency.

Other signs of heatstroke, which require emergency help, include:

  • Hot, dry, red skin

  • Not sweating, despite being hot

  • A persistent headache

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Shallow breathing

  • Feeling nauseous and vomiting

  • Dizziness and feeling light-headed

  • Dilated pupils

  • Lips can start to turn blue

  • Being in a state of confusion and disorientation, or hallucinating

  • Changes in behaviour, including slurred speech

  • Muscle weakness and cramps

  • Loss of consciousness

How to treat heatstroke and sunstroke

It’s fairly simple to treat heat exhaustion but you need to act very fast so it doesn’t develop into something that could be more serious. If you’re concerned someone close to you is experiencing heatstroke and sunstroke symptoms simply bring them indoors or to a cool and shaded area.

Make sure they rest and hydrate. If possible give them a sports drink so that it can replace any salt and boost their blood sugar. Once you’ve done everything else, cool their skin by giving them a shower or using a wet sponge to wipe them. If you don’t have access to any washing tools then take off their unnecessary clothing.

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