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LifeWhat's the distinction between heatstroke and sunstroke?

What’s the distinction between heatstroke and sunstroke?

Young woman reaching for the sun.

Heatstroke can occur when your physique can’t settle down (Image: Getty)

When the temperature soars into the excessive 20s and early 30s in summer, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

While some live to soak up the sun, others find the heat and humidity a bit of a challenge – making them feel sleepy, parched for a glass of water and in need of some anti-perspirant.

But what about when the heat gets too much, and starts to cause headaches, fast breathing and other unpleasant physical symptoms?

They could be signs of heat exhaustion, which can lead to heatstroke – sometimes called sunstroke – but are those terms all describing the same condition?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the difference between heatstroke and sunstroke?

Heatstroke and sunstroke are essentially the same thing, says Harvard Medical School.

Woman using fan after overheating

Is there a difference between the two? (Picture: Getty)

They can arise from heat exhaustion, which is a clear sign the body desperately needs to cool down.

According to the NHS, symptoms include:

  • headache
  • dizziness and confusion
  • loss of appetite and feeling sick
  • excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
  • cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
  • fast breathing or pulse
  • a high temperature of 38°C or above
  • being very thirsty
  • children appearing sleepy or floppy.

The NHS advises anyone experiencing these heat exhaustion symptoms to cool down, by using ice packs on the skin, drinking plenty of water and ideally lying down in a cool place with their feet slightly elevated.

If, after 30 minutes of cool-down time, someone still feels unwell, isn’t sweating despite being hot, has a seizure, feels confused or short of breath, breathes too fast or becomes confused or unresponsive, they may have heatstroke – a medical emergency requiring a 999 call.

Drinking Glasses On Wooden Table

if you experience heat exhaustion, try to cool down by drinking water, lying down and cooling the skin (Picture: Getty)

A body temperature of 40°C or above is also a sign of heatstroke, advises the NHS.

Note the health service website only mentions ‘heat exhaustion’ and ‘heatstroke’ – though some places define sunstroke a little differently, suggesting it specifically refers to overexposure to the sun.

That said, it doesn’t really matter where or how someone develops signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Most important is keeping an eye for symptoms, trying to stay cool during the hot weather, and following the advice for seeking medical attention where it’s needed.


MORE : How to keep your home cool in a heatwave


MORE : How hot does it have to be to leave work in the heatwave? Your rights explained

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