Recognize and avoid heat-related illnesses
Germany and other parts of Europe are currently being hit by a heat wave. At high temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius, the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke, sunburn and heat exhaustion increases. Experts explain how diseases differ, how to recognize them and how best to prevent them.
On the occasion of the current heat wave, doctors from the famous Mayo Clinic (USA) explain the differences between heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke and give advice on the best way to protect yourself.
How does heat exhaustion occur?
Heat exhaustion describes a condition in which the body loses too much water and salt due to high temperatures and high humidity, which dehydrates it. The elderly, people with high blood pressure, and people who do physical work outdoors are most at risk.
Heat exhaustion is often the precursor to heat stroke and can trigger it if countermeasures are not taken in time.
What is sunstroke
When the temperature is high, many people suffer from headaches and nausea when exposed to heat, especially when the sun has been on their head and neck for a long time.
Doctors then often speak of sunstroke. Symptoms occur when heat irritates the meninges or brain tissue, causing an inflammatory reaction and/or swelling of brain tissue.
Those affected often have bright red heads, feel restless, complain of headaches and stiff necks, and often hear ringing in the ears. In some cases, severe nausea and loss of consciousness may occur. However, the body temperature is usually not elevated.
At the first symptoms of sunstroke, those affected should immediately seek shade or a cool room and cool their heads with a damp cloth or a cold shower. The upper body should be slightly elevated. You should also drink plenty, preferably water or apple spray.
In case of loss of consciousness, impaired consciousness, listlessness or severe vomiting, medical attention should be sought immediately. It is particularly important that sunstroke is differentiated from a much more dangerous heat stroke.
Unlike sunstroke, heat stroke affects the whole body. If left untreated, it can damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles – in the worst case even lead to death. Prompt medical treatment is therefore a top priority in the event of heat stroke.
During a heat stroke, the body temperature regulation system is overridden. The heat can no longer be dissipated from the body and accumulates. Unlike sunstroke, heat stroke raises body temperature significantly to 40 degrees Celsius and above. Patients often develop symptoms such as
Convulsions, hallucinations, impaired consciousness, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, hot, dry skin, fatigue.
If these or similar symptoms occur due to heat, an ambulance should be called immediately.
Prevention of heat-related illnesses
Avoiding unnecessary exposure to heat is of course the best way to protect yourself from heat-related illnesses. Older people in particular should be supervised, as they often do not tolerate heat as well as younger people.
Drinking enough water or isotonic drinks will help prevent the body from becoming dehydrated and provide it with the electrolytes it needs to maintain the temperature regulation system.
It is better not to consume alcoholic beverages when it is hot, because alcohol contributes to dehydration of the body. In addition, easily digestible meals should be consumed.
Light, loose clothing also helps cool the body.
Sunburn should also be avoided as it affects the body’s ability to cool itself (see: Preventing sunburn: the most effective ways to protect yourself from the sun).
If possible, heavy physical labor should be avoided in hot weather. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the specialized medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
Mayo Clinic: Safety Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses (Posted: July 19, 2022), newsnetwork.mayoclinic.orgDie Techniker Krankenkasse: Avoid Heatstroke and Sunburn (Posted: July 4, 2022), tk. of
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. It cannot substitute a visit to the doctor.