Skip to main content
© SkyLine, AdobeStock

First aid tips for sunstroke and heatstroke

The summer of 2023 was the hottest on record globally, and temperatures are still rising. Without proper precautions, you can easily get sunstroke or even heatstroke.

The Pharmacists' Chamber of Lower Saxony provides advice on what to do in these situations and what actions to avoid.

Symptoms of sunstroke

Sunstroke happens when the head gets too hot from intense sun exposure, irritating the protective layers of the brain. This can cause swelling that affects the brain. Symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stiff or painful neck
  • Red face
  • Disorientation

The body temperature usually stays normal.

Symptoms of a heatstroke

Heatstroke is very dangerous and can be life-threatening. It occurs when the body overheats and can't cool down by sweating, often due to high temperatures and physical exertion. This is especially likely in warm, humid conditions where sweat can't evaporate properly. Symptoms include:

  • Body temperature over 39°C
  • Initially red skin, later turning pale and ashen
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion or unconsciousness

What to do in case of a sunstroke

  • Move the person out of the sun.
  • Cool the head with wet cloths.
  • Do not cool the whole body, as it's important to keep the body warm.
  • Loosen clothing to improve blood flow.
  • If the person is conscious, offer water, tea, or isotonic drinks. Avoid alcohol.

What to do in case of a heatstroke

If someone is suffering from heatstroke, they must be moved out of the heat immediately and a doctor should be called. The entire body needs to be cooled slowly, while monitoring breathing and consciousness. First aid measures include:

  • Loosen clothing.
  • Fan air over the person.
  • Cool the body gradually with wet cloths.
  • If the person is conscious, elevate their upper body.
  • If unconscious, place them in the recovery position until medical help arrives.

Prevention tips

Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids and avoid direct sunlight during midday.

For Seniors: Elderly individuals often forget to drink enough, which can be dangerous. High temperatures increase the risk of falls, dehydration, confusion, and cardiovascular issues. To keep cool indoors, use blinds and curtains, and apply damp cloths to the forehead, neck, arms, and legs. Fans can also help. Keep water or diluted juice easily accessible, and remind elderly individuals to drink regularly, even with a phone call. A light diet of fruits and vegetables is also recommended.

For Everyone: Avoid direct sun and use sunscreen with high SPF. Wear a hat and loose clothing when outside. On hot days, use a thin blanket or light sheet for better sleep.

For Infants and Young Children: Ensure they wear a hat because their heads are proportionally larger and their skulls thinner than adults. A sunshade offers extra protection.

Physical Activity: Avoid strenuous activities. If you need to be active in the heat, stay hydrated and take frequent breaks. Your urine should be at least light yellow. Athletes should also ensure adequate mineral intake, particularly magnesium, and consult a pharmacist if needed.

This article is from the 3/2024 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.