What is heatstroke?

Given Australia’s sunny climate, it’s not surprising that heatstroke is quite common – and it can occur at any time of year, whether it is sunny or not!

Heatstroke (sometimes called sunstroke) occurs when your body isn’t able to get rid of the heat that’s being generated and struggles to keep you at a safe temperature. In this situation your internal systems can start to shut down.

How does heatstroke happen?

For most people, an ideal body temperature to ensure that our various organs and systems are working as they should is 37 degrees. To keep our body temperature at this level, our body uses systems such as shivering (to warm up) and sweating (to cool down). If your body isn’t able to remove enough heat, you will be susceptible to heatstroke.

Man heatstrokeHeatstroke can be caused by:

  • Exposure to the sun,
  • Strenuous activity
  • High environmental temperatures
  • Poor ventilation
  • A combination.

Symptoms of heatstroke

Sunstroke can be a life-threatening situation and you should seek immediate medical attention. This is particularly critical for the elderly or the very young. Symptoms can differ from person to person, but some common symptoms, according to the NSW Department of Health include:

  • A sudden rise in body temperature
  • Red, hot and dry skin (sweating has stopped)
  • A dry swollen tongue
  • A rapid pulse
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • An intense thirst
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Poor coordination or slurred speech
  • Aggressive or bizarre behaviour
  • Loss of consciousness, seizures or coma

As mentioned, heatstroke does require immediate medical attention. You should call 000 for an ambulance and while you are waiting you should keep yourself (or the affected person) as shaded and cool as p[possible, and aim to bring your body temperature down with a cool bath, shower or in any other way you can.

Avoid paracetamol or aspirin; wait for the paramedics to arrive – stay on the phone with them if possible.

Other useful resources
NSW Department of Health Factsheet
Better Health Channel

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