What is heat exhaustion and what are the symptoms of heat stroke in kids, babies, adults, and pets?

AFTER blazing hot temperatures, you may be wondering if you're suffering the side effects of too much heat.

Heat exhaustion causes symptoms that may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse.

It is not usually serious if you can cool down within 30 minutes.

But if you find you cannot cool down, it may mean you have heat stroke, which is far more serious and needs to be treated as an emergency.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly, especially in conditions of extreme heat.

It can develop over several days of exposure to high temperatures and a lack of fluids.

Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity and strenuous physical activity.

Typically heat exhaustion is seen in the elderly, people with high blood pressure or those working or exercising in hot places.

Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition.

What are the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion?

These are the symptoms of heat exhaustion, 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
  • Temperature of 38C or above
  • Being very thirsty

How do you treat heat exhaustion?

If someone you know is showing signs of heat exhaustion, you need to cool them down.

  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. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are good, too.

Every few minutes, check their breathing and pulse are ok.

Stay with them until they start to cool down, which should take no longer than half an hour.

What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a very serious condition and the most concerning of all heat-related illness.

It occurs when the body's temperature becomes dangerously high and is no longer able to cool down.

Left untreated, heat stroke can lead to complications, such as brain damage and organ failure.

It's also possible to die from heat stroke; because the body is hotter, it needs to circulate blood faster to keep it cool, which puts strain on the heart and lungs.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

The NHS says you should call 999 if you or someone else has the following symptoms of heat stroke:

  • Still feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
  • Not sweating even though too hot
  • Has a temperature of 40C or above
  • Has fast breathing or shortness of breath
  • Feeling confused
  • Has a fit (seizure)
  • Experiences loss of consciousness
  • Is not responsive

Keep giving first aid, as detailed above, while you wait for the ambulance.

And put them in the recovery position if they lose consciousness.

Heat stroke can be very serious if not treated quickly.

How long does it take to recover from heat stroke?

Recovery time for heat stroke is variable, depending on the severity of the case and the overall health of the patient.

Initial recovery is normally one to two days in hospital, but complete recovery could take between two months and a year.

Can pets get heat stroke?

Pets, most commonly dogs, can also develop heat stroke – which is why you should never leave them locked in a hot place such as a car during the summer.

Warning signs in dogs include heavy panting, excessive drooling, drowsiness, collapsing or being sick.

Heat stroke can kill animals so, if you think your pet is affected, move them to a cool shady area, douse them in cool (not cold) water and call a vet immediately.

How do I stop myself getting heat stroke?

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

Here are some other top tips for keeping cool, from making an 'ice fan' to avoiding big meals and choosing cotton.

Meanwhile, if you were tossing and turning last night, here's how to cool down and drift off during the hot weather.

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