3 pictures showing sunburn, heat exhaustion and heatstroke

Sunburn Heat Exhaustion & Heatstroke

How to avoid Sunburn, Heat Exhaustion & Heatstroke as temperatures rise this weekend…

With temperatures rising this weekend in Ireland it is important to be aware of the effects of exposure to the sun, especially with babies and children.  Hot summer days can be lovely but sunburn, heat exhaustion and heatstroke can have serious consequences and can occur unexpectedly, make sure you are able to cool down, apply sunscreen and remain well hydrated.    In this article, we explain what heat exhaustion and heatstroke and give you some first aid advice to help keep your family safe in the sun.

Heat exhaustion is when the body’s core temperature rises to 37-40⁰C.  When this happens the levels of salt and water in the body start to drop causing symptoms such as:

  • headaches/dizziness
  • heavy sweating
  • flushed and hot skin
  • feeling faint
  • loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting
  • rapid heartbeat
  • confusion
  • children may also become floppy and sleepy

Heatstroke occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above 40⁰C.  At this point the cells inside the body start to break down and essential body parts stop functioning. According to the HSE Website symptoms of heatstroke include mental confusion, hyperventilation (rapid shallow breathing) and loss of consciousness.  If left untreated heatstroke can cause multiple organ failure, brain damage and death.  Heatstroke is a medical emergency and needs urgent immediate attention.

How to prevent sunburn, heat exhaustion and heatstroke

Avoid extreme physical exertion in hot weather, even if you are fit and healthy.  Interestingly it takes the body between a week and 10 days to adjust to a hotter environment. Before that time, you will sweat less than you should do.  Try to schedule exercise or physical labor for cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or evening.

Wear light and loose-fitting cotton clothing, children’s clothing often have a UBF of 50 which will block 98% of UV radiation

Stay in the shade as much as possible.

Wear a wide-brimmed sun hat (not caps) which will cover neck and ears too, try and get a hat which has a SPF factor as this will give greater protection.

Always wear appropriate sun screen, apply liberally over face and body about 30 minutes before you go out in the sun so it has time to be absorbed, then re-apply every 2-3 hours.  Remember you can still get burnt in the shade or even if it is overcast remember that it can still cause skin to burn, especially on children and infants.

Don’t forget the impact of water.  Many people are not aware that if you are on or near a body of water this will dramatically increase the intensity of the sun’s rays.  Reapply sun protection after swimming.  Children should always be continually watched when in or near water. Drowning is quick and silent and they can drown in a surprisingly small amount of water.  Please read our article on water safety for more advise on how to stay safe this summer in water.

Avoid being out in the midday sun (between 11 and 3pm), if you are out in the sun regularly go indoors or move into shade.

Stay cool and stay hydrated.   Take a cold bath, shower or body wash. Eat cold foods and drink plenty of cold drinks.

Never leave anyone in a parked car.  Ensure that babies, children and the elderly are not left alone in parked cars as temperature can soar rapidly.

Check on sick or elderly neighbours during periods of hot weather, ensure that they are able to keep cool and are feeling comfortable.


  • If someone is displaying signs of heat exhaustion take them to a cool place and give them plenty of water to drink. This will reduce the possible onset of heatstroke.
  • If you suspect heatstroke, dial 112/999 immediately and ask for an ambulance. Whilst waiting for assistance try and cool the body’s core temperature quickly. If left untreated the survival rate is as low as 20% among vulnerable people such as the elderly.

First Aid in event of sunburn

Lady with sunburn on back

  • If you have sunburn you should cover up affected areas of the skin and avoid direct sunlight until the skin is healed.
  • Drink plenty of fluids which will help you to cool down and avoid dehydration.
  • Cool under a tepid shower or cool running water for at least 20 minutes. Alternatively apply a cold compress to cool the affected area.
  • Severe cases of sunburn (blistered skin) may require special burn cream and burn dressings. Ask your pharmacist for advice if you are unsure. You may need to have your burns dressed by a nurse at your GP surgery.
  • Very severe sunburn cases may require treatment at your local accident and emergency department.
  • If a baby or small child has been sunburned, or if blisters or a fever develop, seek medical advice from your GP immediately. For further information visit the HSE website here.

About us

Donegal Safety Services provide first aid training tailored to your needs.  It is vital to keep your skills current and refreshed.   Press here to view our full range of First Aid Courses or call +0035383 834 9278 for more information.

Donegal Safety Services provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. Donegal Safety Services is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken on this information.

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