Sunstroke – what to do?

Sunstroke is one of the heat injuries, as are heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Typical symptoms of sunstroke are a red head,  dizziness  and  headaches . Children are even more at risk of suffering heat damage than adults. What helps with sunstroke? And what to do to prevent sunstroke? Read here how you can recognize sunstroke, what to do if sunstroke has occurred and how you can protect yourself from it.

What is sunstroke?

Sunstroke (Insolation, Heliosis) belongs to the group of heat injuries – this includes health disorders that are caused by an increased ambient temperature over a longer period of time. Sunstroke is usually the result of intense sunlight on the head, which can cause irritation of the meninges. Sunstroke is often caused by prolonged outdoor activity when temperatures are high. A stay in the  solarium  , on the other hand, can cause  sunburn , but usually not sunstroke.

Sunstroke: causes and dangers

Sunstroke is caused by prolonged exposure to direct sunlight on the unprotected head and neck. The heat radiation from sunlight and the effect of heat on the brain can cause irritation of the meninges and brain tissue.

As a possible complication, sunstroke can lead to  inflammation  of the meninges ( meningitis ), which in particularly severe cases can result in permanent damage to the brain. In addition, cerebral edema can develop, which can lead to a seizure, but also to respiratory arrest or a coma.

Recognize symptoms of sunstroke

Typical symptoms of sunstroke include:

  • a crimson, hot head
  • Neck pain  or neck stiffness
  • headache and dizziness

Headaches usually get worse when the head is bent forward. Symptoms such as  nausea  and vomiting or  ringing in the ears , restlessness, drowsiness and confusion can also occur. In severe cases, the affected person may lose consciousness and the circulatory system may collapse. In the worst case, sunstroke can also lead to the death of the person concerned.

In contrast to heat stroke, in which the body temperature is usually very high, sunstroke is often in the normal range. Only the head is very hot, the rest of the body feels normal or even rather cool. In some cases – especially in children – sunstroke can also cause  fever  .

In general, it should be noted that the typical signs of sunstroke sometimes only become noticeable several hours after being in the sun, so that the symptoms sometimes only appear the next day.

Sunstroke and Heat Stroke: What’s the Difference?

Heatstroke occurs when the body’s heat regulation is disturbed, for example by prolonged exposure to heat, which leads to heat build-up. Heatstroke does not always have to be caused by direct exposure to the sun.

In contrast to sunstroke, the body temperature is greatly increased in heat stroke, it is usually over 40 degrees. Typical symptoms of heat stroke are:

  • a red hot head
  • a hot and  dry skin
  • an increased heart rate
  • a staggering walk

So, with heatstroke, the entire body feels hot, while with sunstroke, only the head is affected.

Similar to sunstroke, heat stroke can also lead to unconsciousness in the affected person. If heat stroke is not treated in time, it can lead to death.

Freezing, shivering and  chills  , on the other hand, indicate neither sunstroke nor heat stroke. They can rather be a sign of heat exhaustion, which can also be a result of great heat in the case of great physical exertion with heavy sweating.

sunstroke in children

Children are particularly at risk of sunstroke. Their skullcap is comparatively thin and therefore offers little protection from the sun. In addition, children in the first two years of life have little hair that can protect the head and neck from the sun.

 Children are particularly at risk of sunstroke when playing outside or when  bathing . In addition, care should be taken to ensure that the child’s head does not lie unprotected in the sun on longer car journeys. In addition to the typical symptoms, children with sunstroke are often restless and weepy. They are more likely than adults to have a fever and the child will appear unusually pale.

What helps with sunstroke?

If you suspect sunstroke in a person, you should take the following actions:

  1. Move affected person to shade or cool place immediately. Lay them flat on the floor and elevate your head and torso slightly.
  2. Cool your head and neck with damp, cool towels or a cold compress. This should not come directly from the freezer, because extreme cold puts additional strain on the body. Better wrap a cloth around the cold compress.
  3. Give the affected person something to drink if they are conscious. Avoid ice-cold drinks.
  4. Call 911 if the person’s condition doesn’t improve within a few minutes. Children should be examined by a doctor in any case.
  5. If the person is unconscious, you should get medical help immediately and place the person in the  recovery position  . Until emergency services arrive, keep the person under close surveillance and regularly check consciousness and breathing.
  6. If you cannot find normal breathing, cardiopulmonary resuscitation must be performed.

Duration and tips for treatment

If the affected person avoids the sun, the symptoms usually disappear completely within a few days. However, it is important to remember that the  duration of a sunstroke  can vary from person to person.

It is advisable to stay in bed and get plenty of sleep, preferably in a cool, darkened room. As a home remedy, cooling compresses can be placed on the forehead and neck. A glass of water with a teaspoon  of salt mixed  in after heavy  sweating  can help compensate for the loss of electrolytes. Headaches can be treated with appropriate painkillers.

How to protect yourself from sunstroke

The best way to prevent sunstroke is to follow these tips:

  • Wear light-colored headgear that ideally also protects the neck.
  • You should also avoid long sunbathing and outdoor activities during the midday heat.
  • Make sure to spend some time in the shade during prolonged activities in the sun.
  • Children should also never be left alone in the car when it is very hot.

Since hair can have a protective effect against sunstroke, children and people with a bald head or short hair have an increased risk of sunstroke.

Prevent heat stroke

In order to avoid heat stroke, you should make sure not to wear clothing that is too warm in high heat so as not to impede the body’s heat regulation. It is important to drink enough non-alcoholic beverages, especially if you lose a lot of sweat.

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