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Preventing heat stroke and heat related illness

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are both very real risks in hot weather. Heat can cause illness, hospitalisations and even death, so it is important to know how to stay safe in the heat, and be able to recognise the signs of these illnesses and how to treat them promptly.

Heat Exhaustion

In the heat, our bodies start to sweat causing loss of water and salt. This can lead to dehydration and becoming overheated. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can turn into heatstroke.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating

  • Fast & weak pulse

  • Shallow & fast breathing

  • Muscle weakness or cramps

  • Tiredness & dizziness

  • Headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

Photo of sun against blue, cloudless sky
Being out in the sun for long periods without shade can lead to heat stroke


Heat stroke is a potentially life threatening condition caused by the body becoming dangerously overheated. It can develop quickly with little warning so recognising the signs and acting quickly is important.

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Sudden rise in body temperature

  • Red, hot & dry skin (sweating has stopped)

  • Dry, swollen tongue

  • Rapid pulse

  • Shallow & fast breathing

  • Extreme thirst

  • Dizziness or confusion

  • Headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Poor coordination or slurred speech

  • Aggressive or bizarre behaviour

  • Loss of consciousness, seizures or coma

What to do:

  • Immediately try to lower body temperature by moving to a cool place and lying down

  • Take small sips of cool water (if the person is conscious and able to drink)

  • Have a cool shower or sponge down with cool water -a garden hose or soaking clothes with water will do in an emergency

  • Put cool packs under armpits or on the back of the neck to lower body temperature

  • Seek medical attention if the person vomits or does not recover quickly

  • If heatstroke is suspected: Call 999 immediately. If the person is unconscious, put them in the recovery position. Perform CPR if necessary

Preventing heat related illness

  • Drink plenty of water - staying well hydrated helps your body regulate your temperature

  • Keep cool - If you feel hot, seek shaded areas, have a cold drink, go for a swim or do what you need to do to cool down

  • Take care of others - everyone is at risk, but at greatest risk are: - elderly people - babies and young children - pregnant or breastfeeding women - people with long term health conditions such as diabetes - people who are already ill and dehydrated - people doing strenuous exercise for long periods such as manual workers and athletes

  • Have a plan - make sure you know how to avoid heat related illness and plan outings to minimise risk. By knowing what to do if someone shows signs of heat related illness, you could potentially save a life


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Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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