Sunstroke: symptoms, duration, the next day, what to do?

[Mis à jour le 13 juin 2022 à 14h42] Strong heat, prolonged exposure to the sun, lack of hydration… And it’s sunstroke! Headache, chills, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea… the symptoms of an insolution occur as a result of the direct effect of the sun on the head. It is necessary to act quickly to bring down the body temperature. How long hard sunstroke ? How cure sunstroke ? What to do the next day? Should you consult?

Definition: what is sunstroke?

A sunstroke defines all the symptoms occurring during too long exposure to the sun’s rays, without protection. The body has mechanisms to control its internal temperature and keep it constant. around 37°C. The hypothalamus plays an essential role in this regulation. It is a small gland located in the cranial box, which manages the stability of body temperature, sweat and the feeling of thirst. In the event of exaggerated muscular effort, which generates heat, or exposure to excessive heat for too long a period, the compensation mechanisms may be overwhelmed. An increase in body temperature then appears, called hyperthermia, causing the sunstroke. In extreme cases, this can lead to potentially fatal malignant hyperthermia.

What are the symptoms of sunstroke?

Insolation is manifested by an increase in body temperature (which can rise above 40°C), redness, especially in the face, excessive sweatingof the headache, but also diffuse pain, a pallor with a feeling of unease, muscle cramps, or even dizzinessof the diarrheaof the nausea and vomiting. It can also cause a increased heart rate, respiratory rate, and sometimes even confusion or fainting. In the severe cases, of the neurological signs may appear: this is a precursor to malignant hyperthermia. This is then a medical emergency.

How long does sunstroke last?

“A sunstroke usually lasts a few hours after the exposure, the body is in pain due to the heat” rresponds Laura Fonteneau, doctor of pharmacy. The body gradually recovers its temperature and recovers in hydration. “If the exposure lasted a long time and/or in the event of very high heat and/or in the event of a lack of hydration, in fragile people (ongoing pathology, low blood pressure, etc.), the symptoms can even be observed the next day or even the day after with headaches, feeling tired, weak, nausea.”

What causes and who is at risk for sunstroke?

Insolation occurs during exposure to the sun, for several hours, without protection, and without hydration sufficient. Athletes, manual workers exposed to heat, infants, the elderly, people with a disability or a chronic illness are particularly sensitive to it. The aging of certain functions reduces the ability to adapt and also the feeling of thirst.

How is the diagnosis of heatstroke made?

The diagnosis of sunstroke is made on history and observation of symptoms which are confirmed in the precise context of prolonged exposure to the sun. No additional examination is necessary to make the diagnosis. They can be helpful in assessing the severity of sunstroke, especially dehydration.

Should we consult if we have sunstroke?

Sunstroke without disturbances of consciousness or difficulties in rehydration does not necessarily require a consultation. If the headaches are too severe, if the vomiting is profuse, and/or accompanied by consciousness disorders, medical consultation is urgent, especially in children.

How to treat sunstroke?

Sunstroke should never be neglected, because of its potential evolution towards serious disorders. It requires the immediate use of all the means to lower the body temperature. You have to cool the person. To do this, you must first practice simple gestures such as:

  • lay the person down in a shady and cool place,
  • make him drink plenty of water,
  • wet his limbs and head.
  • sprinkle it with cold water.

Sunstroke can progress to serious disorders

Once the temperature has dropped, the subject is out of danger. The taking paracetamol can relieve headaches. In particularly serious cases, hospitalization is necessary, for intravenous rehydration. Whatever, supervision must be close during the first hours, especially in the case of a child or an elderly person.

What practical advice to avoid sunstroke?

Sun exposure should never be prolonged. The means of protection are essential and numerous:

  • wearing a hat or a cap to protect the head from the sun
  • humidification cloths for infants to wet the neck
  • hydration sufficient: regularly encourage children to drink
  • do not wait for feelings of heat before get in the shade
  • avoid exposure to the sun after a heavy meal or alcohol intake

Thanks to Dr Anne-Christine Della Valle, general practitioner.

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