Heat stroke symptoms explained: How long does it last and how can I avoid it?

AS the weather heats up this week it’s important to remember that soaring temperatures can impact out health and wellbeing.

While the majority of us enjoy soaking up the sun when it’s got its hat on, we still need to be careful.


It’s nice to spend time in the hot weather, but you should be careful as temperatures continue to rise this weekCredit: Getty

But with temperatures in some parts of the UK set to be as hot as Malibu this week, it’s important to be wary of the dangers of heatstroke.

Heat-related illnesses can be a result of hot weather, sitting in the sun too much, being sat in a hot car or indoors, exercising when it’s hot, or not getting enough fluids.

It often starts as heat exhaustion, which develops over hours or several days of exposure to high temperatures and a lack of fluids.

Most people can cool down within 30 minutes.

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But if you can’t cool down, it might be a sign you have heat stroke which can be life threatening for some.

Heat stroke is the most serious problem related to hot weather and is an emergency.

In the most severe cases it can lead to death as the inability for the body to cool down puts extra pressure on the organs.

Superintendent pharmacist Phil Day at Pharmacy2U said: “For the chronically unwell, elderly, or very young, extreme heat can pose significant health risks and it’s best to know how to keep you and your family safe in the event of very hot weather.

“If you or someone else feels unwell, find somewhere cool to rest and have plenty of fluids to drink. Always seek medical help if symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, confusion, weakness, dizziness or cramps get worse, or don’t go away.”

But how can you tell the difference between being a bit hot and sweaty and whether or not you have heat exhaustion or heat stroke?


If you’ve been out all day in the sun then it’s likely that you’re feeling a little bit dehydrated and a headache is a side effect of this.

The NHS says that a headache is one of the first symptoms you will have if you have heat stroke.

As an adult it’s easy to treat a headache as usually we would take some painkillers or rehydrate. But children aren’t always able to take pain killers.

To help treat your child you can try an oral rehydration powder which can usually be purchased in most pharmacies.

Loss of appetite

During the summer months it’s easy to forget to snack when we are out and about – but if you have completely lost your appetite then this could be a sign of heat stroke.

The heat can also make you feel sick which is also enough to put you off eating.

Try and eat something small which is easy to chew and swallow and that isn’t going to require too much effort.

Dizzy or confused

If you’re feeling dizzy or confused then you may have developed heat stroke.

For adults this is usually recognisable if you feel dizzy when you get up from sitting down.

Children may feel confused and if this is the case it’s key to help them relax so they don’t become agitated.

Help them to lie down and raise their legs.

Floppy and sleepy

While symptoms of heat stroke for both adults and children are the same, the NHS states that children might become floppy and sleepy if they have heat stroke.

In order to cool them down the NHS states that you “should spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are good, too.”

If a child has developed heat stroke then it’s important that you stay with them until they are feeling better.

If you are worried about their symptoms, call NHS 111.

How to keep safe in the heat

Hot weather can be difficult for most of us to deal with.

But Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, has warned the risk of serious illness is much higher for the elderly, children and young people, and those who already have health conditions including heart and breathing problems.

She has urged everyone to take care, and encouraged people to keep an eye on their neighbours and relatives.

Her top tips include:

  • Shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter outside. You can open the windows for ventilation when it is cooler
  • If you’re vulnerable to the effects of heat, avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day (11am and 3pm).
  • Keep rooms cool by using shades or reflective material outside the windows. If this isn’t possible, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed (metallic blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter).
  • Have cool baths or showers, and splash yourself with cool water.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol – water, lower-fat milks and tea and coffee are good options.
  • Listen to alerts on the radio, TV and social media about keeping cool.
  • Plan ahead to make sure you have enough supplies, such as food, water and any medications you need.
  • Identify the coolest room in the house so you know where to go to keep cool.
  • Wear loose, cool clothing, and a hat and sunglasses if you go outdoors.
  • Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be less able to look after themselve


During hot weather or exercise there is an increased risk of heat stroke and children can be more prone to this as they are often running around or playing with their friends.

As well as this, children and babies sweat less than adults, which can make it more difficult to cool down.

In order to prevent the serious harms of heat, make sure to give kids plenty of cold drinks while they are playing.

Adults also need to stay hydrated.

Wearing light coloured clothing can also help as can taking cool baths or showers as this will help to regulate the temperature of the body.

There is an urge in the summer months to spend as much time outside as possible.

But the NHS says that you should avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm as this is when it is usually at its hottest.

When to get help

The NHS states that sun stroke should go away within 30 minutes, but there are some other things you should look out for.

If you’re still feeling unwell after 30 minutes, and you’re not sweating even though it’s too hot, then you should seek medical help.

The skin usually goes clammy and cool when you have heat exhaustion, but dry and hot when you have heat stroke.

A thermometer is a great way to work out whether or not you are too hot – if you are above 40C then you should seek help.

That goes for children under five with a temperature of 37.5C or above.

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If you or another adult or child has shortness of breath, has a fit, loses consciousness and/or is not responsive then you should call for help.

Some beaches many have medics on hand – but you should always call 999 in an emergency.

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