How to help sunburn, prickly heat & heat stroke

Sunshine is wonderful, but you or someone you know could have too much of a good thing. If that happens, here's how to help.

How to help sunburn, prickly heat & heat stroke

Ways to avoid sunburn

  • Sunburn is caused by overexposure to the ultraviolet rays in sunlight. It's a risk factor for skin cancer and is known to age the skin.
  • Children and the fair-skinned in particular should keep covered up in strong sunlight, wear a wide-brimmed hat and stay in the shade.
  • Infants should be kept out of the sun entirely. Invest in shades for strollers and car windows, and consider buying a UV-protected tent for them to play in outside.
  • Use a sunscreen with a high protection factor. Apply a generous amount before you go out in the sun. Re-apply regularly, at least every two or three hours, and after going for a swim.
  • Sunburn can occur even on overcast days, especially at high altitudes.

If you get burned

  • Cool the area by sponging with lukewarm water, or take a tepid shower.
  • Stay hydrated: drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol.
  • Apply aftersun lotion to moisturize the skin and prevent the sensation of tightening. Calamine lotion relieves the irritation.
  • More serious sunburn requires burn cream and dressings. Seek medical attention.
  • Always consult a doctor if a baby or small child has been sunburned.

Help soothe prickly heat

  • Prickly heat is an irritating skin rash, possibly caused by excessive sweat leaking into surrounding tissue. In some cases salt crystals form in sweat gland ducts, causing blisters.
  • To reduce sweating, avoid excessive heat and humidity. If you have to go out in really hot weather, wear loose clothing of natural fibres.
  • Taking a cool bath or shower will provide some relief.
  • Antihistamine tablets or creams can help to reduce itching. Or try applying hydrocortisone cream (not to the face) or calamine lotion.
  • Aloe vera gel is pleasantly soothing. Natural yogurt spread on the rash is messy but often effective.

Cool down heat stroke

Heat stroke, and its precursor, heat exhaustion, can be fatal. Act immediately to lower body temperature and stop the overheating.

  • Get the sufferer to rest in a cool place and give fluids — water or rehydrating sports drinks, but never coffee or alcohol.
  • Loosen their clothing and make sure they have air.
  • Cool them with cold water — a shower or bath, or wet face cloths applied to the skin.
  • Call an ambulance if the person is no better within half an hour. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.

Heat stroke vs. heat exhaustion

  • Heat exhaustion is when the body's core temperature rises above 37°C (98.6°F). Symptoms include nausea, heavy sweating, faintness, fatigue, confusion, vomiting and a racing heartbeat.
  • Heat stroke happens when the body temperature exceeds 40°C (104°F). Symptoms are similar to heat exhaustion but more severe and can include loss of coordination, anxiety, hallucinations, seizures and unconsciousness.

Help stop heat stroke

  • Call an ambulance.
  • Move the patient to a cool place. Fan them and provide fluids, as with heat exhaustion.
  • Shower or immerse the patient in cool (not cold) water, or cover the skin with cool, damp towels.
  • Massage gently to encourage circulation.
  • Be prepared for their condition to deteriorate.

We all love fun in the sun, but too much of a good thing can be dangerous. The best way to treat heat-related problems is by preventing them. But if the worst happens, be sure you know what to do, and who to call.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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