How to beat heat exhaustion and heat stroke

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You’re lying on the beach and you look up at beautiful blue expanse of sky with only a few cotton ball clouds scattered here and there. The sun is sitting right above – is it midday already? Maybe it’s time to get some lunch. You stand up and you are hit with a wave of dizziness – there’s a pounding in your head you didn’t notice before. In a few seconds the dizziness subsides and the headache diminishes, just a little. It’s fine, it’s just the heat. A bit of food and drink will do the trick. Or will it?

These are early signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, caused by increased body temperatures. Normally, our body keeps us cool by sweating, so when this stops, our temperature can rise drastically. There are two reasons why we stop sweating, when we are dehydrated or when the humidity is high. We can’t really control the humidity, but we can definitely control how hydrated we are. Here are five tips to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke have some similarities including symptoms of headache, nausea and vomiting.  Both can be life threatening if left untreated so it is important to know the signs and know what to do when you or someone you know experience these symptoms.

Heat exhaustion Heat stroke
Temperature 37-40 degrees  Celsius 40 degrees Celsius and above
What do you feel when you have…?
  • Extremely tired
  • Sweating heavily
  • Faint and/or dizzy
  • Headache
  • Nauseous
  • Vomiting
  • Confused
  • Headache
  • Thirsty
  • Nauseous
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry skin from lack of sweating
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
What to do when you or someone has…?
  • Lie down in a cool place e.g. in the shade
  • Loosen and remove excessive clothing
  • Moisten skin with water
  • Keep cool with a fan
  • Drink cool water
  • Call 000 for an Ambulance
  • Lie down in a cool place e.g. in the shade
  • Moisten skin with water
  • Place wrapped ice packs to neck, groin and armpits

How to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke

The best way to not get heat exhaustion or heat stroke is to make sure you take the right measures to prevent it happening in the first place. Here are five tips on how to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

  • Keep hydrated and make sure you drink enough water. How can you tell if you haven’t been drinking enough? Just take a look at the colour of your urine when you go to the toilet. If you’ve been drinking enough, it will be colourless or very faint yellow. If it’s the colour of your beer, you better get drinking (water that is!).
  • Minimise the amount of drinks that can result in dehydration such as caffeinated drinks (coffee and tea), alcoholic drinks and drinks high in sugar (including soft drinks and sports drinks). If you do need to replenish your salts due to mild dehydration, try rehydration salts such as Hydralyte and Gastrolyte.
  • Follow the three L’s for clothing – lightweight, light coloured and loose fitting to help keep cool.
  • Plan your activities, especially those outdoors, during the cooler parts of the day (before 10am and after 4pm).
  • Don’t wait in the car, or leave children or pets in the car where the temperature can rise drastically.


Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can both be very serious if left unaddressed and untreated. Understand the signs and symptoms so you know what to look out for on these hot days, not just for yourself but for loved ones as well, especially those that are at higher risk including elderly, children and pregnant women.  Keep an eye on the mercury and make sure you and your family keep hydrated with water, and in Australia, it’s as easy as finding a tap or bubbler.

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