Sun Exposure & The Horrible Illness of Heatstroke: How to Recognise & Avoid

Sun Exposure & The Horrible Illness of Heatstroke: How to Recognise & Avoid


It's Sun Awareness week, so we are bringing you another useful post before you're off on our holidays this season.

Don't be fooled by cooler, drizzly weather right now. According to Severe Weather Europe, the UK is set for a scorching summer. Whilst I am a summer baby who loves to feel the sun's kiss on her skin, with warmer temperatures comes the risk of increased sun exposure and health deterioration caused by extreme temperatures. The danger is not just for the elderly and young children. In no time at all you can find yourself suffering dreaded heatstroke. Learn what it is, how long it can take to properly recover from it, and how to avoid...after the break.

I have grown up in climates far hotter and humid than the UK. Places with year round sun (Jamaica) or guaranteed sunshine in the summer (Washington, D.C.). I never became overheated or had the sun alter the internal temperature of my body until I lived in the UK! 

woman under intense sunshine

Picture it: 23 C degrees (74 F),  in the quaint gardens of Tate Britain Museum in London on a July day. The shaded areas of the garden were cool enough for me to seek a sunny spot to enjoy the sunshine whilst my wife stood in line for lunch. I sat in that spot for no more than 10 minutes. I must confess that I was also not wearing Sun Factor Protection (SFP) of any sort that day. I felt no immediate effect such as sweating, or extra hot. Nothing. It was not until a few hours later, when the outside temperature had fallen slightly, that I started sweating profusely (which I don't normally do). I was disorientated, and stricken with violent vomiting.  I was weak, exhausted and confused about what had happened to me. This continued into the next day with me unable to hold down any food or drink. It took me three days to fully recover from this by resting and eating plain bread. Turns out what had happened to me was heat stroke!


What is Heatstroke?

A heatstroke is when the environmental temperature causes your body's internal temperature to rise to over 39 C degrees (103 F). For reference, the human body's normal internal temperature is 37 C degrees (98.6 F). Once the body's temperature is outside its optimal range, it starts to send emergency signals that it is in danger. 

What are the symptoms?

These are the most prominent signs, the majority of which I can attest to suffering:

  • Sudden Severe Headache: it doesn't have to be a migraine, but an intense headache can be a sign that you're spending too much time in the sun
  • Abrupt confusion or disorientation: signs of dizziness, agitation, momentary loss of consciousness are indications of too much sun exposure. 
  • Simultaneous chills and sweating: A chilled feeling down the spine whilst sweating is a signal from your body when it is failing to adequately regulate your body temperature. 
  • Racing heart and shallow, rapid breathing: a marked increase in you heart rate even when your body is relaxed, followed by quick, shallow breaths are classic signs of heatstroke. 
  • Nausea and vomiting: in combination with the symptoms above, nausea and vomiting serve as your body's way to eliminate danger, and a surefire sign you need to cool down immediately.

How to Address Heatstroke:

I'm going to save this one for the professionals. Because heatstroke is a medical emergency, it's best to call an ambulance or get to the hospital. However, in the event that you have not lost consciousness, be sure to  drink cool water (not ice cold--this will constrict your blood vessels and make things worse) and immediately seek a shaded, cool area until you can get medical attention. 

How to Avoid Sunstroke 

  • drink plenty of cool drinks, especially water or liquids with electrolytes
  • lower the temperature of your shower or bath
  • wear light-coloured, loose clothing and a hat
  • mist yourself with water regularly if in the heat for long periods
  • avoid being in the sun during the height of its intensity (1100-1500)
  • reduce alcohol intake and increase water consumption
  • avoid extreme exercises outdoors or in overheated indoor spaces 


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