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Summertime Sun – How to Avoid Overheating

Spending long hours outside enjoying the sunshine is one of the hallmarks of summer. When we’re having fun at the pool, beach or a BBQ, its easy to get carried away and forget to take care of ourselves, but its important to soak up the sun safely (especially for our skin health)

Spending time outdoors in the heat puts us at risk for heat and sunstroke. What is sunstroke, how do we avoid it and what should we do if we suspect someone has it?

What is sunstroke?

Humans are able to regulate their own temperature – to an extent. Thermosensors in the hypothalamus are activated when blood temperature increases past its allowed set point. This is important to maintain a thermal balance in the body. 

When these thermosensors recognise that it is too hot, they activate our temperature regulating mechanisms which cause the body to sweat and blood vessels dilate, panting or increased respiration, all aimed to help dissipate heat. However, this mechanism only works within a certain range of temperatures. If you are exposed to very high temperatures, or if the period of exposure is very long, it may become harder to regulate these cooling systems.

Sunstroke is a form of heatstroke caused by – you guess it – the sun. It’s not just the sun that can give us sunstroke, however, it is the combination of high temperatures and sun exposure that can cause sunstroke. Over heating can internally lead to heat exhaustion may progress into more serious heat stroke if precautions are not taken. Once the temperature is greater than 26°C, we are at a higher risk of developing heatstroke.

What are risk factors for sun/heat overexposure?

  • Advanced age (older than 75)
  • Young age (under age 4)
  • Obesity
  • Chronic illness
  • Alcoholism
  • Dehydration
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) and Hypotension (very low blood pressure)
  • Developing a sunburn
  • Certain medications such as diuretics, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, laxatives and benzodiazepines
  • Increased physical activity

What are some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion?

  • General symptoms
    • Vomiting, nausea and general weakness may be present with heat exhaustion.
    • Your heart rate may also slow down causing some dizziness
    • Thermoregulation is still happening so you would likely see excessive sweating.
  • Heat cramps
    • Heat cramps are more common in those doing strenuous physical activity in the sun/heat
    • They tend to start after intense physical activity and present with lots of sweating
  • Lower limb swelling
    • Swelling of the ankle or feet can be common in those who spend hours standing or sitting in the heat, especially if you are wearing restrictive clothing and shoes
  • Heat rash
    • Heat rash is common under clothed areas of the body after prolonged or sudden heat exposure
    • The rash can last a few hours or days

What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

  • Heat stroke is much more severe state of over heating, and occurs when our internal mechanisms to cool stop working or are no longer effective.
  • An individuals heart rate rapidly increases
  • Also because the normal thermoregulatory systems are not working properly an individual is no longer sweating and their skin will be hot and dry.
  • Resulting dehydration will also decrease urine output, meaning it may be scanty, strong smelling, concentrated urine.

How do you avoid heat overexposure? 

  It is important to note that if you experience any heat stroke symptoms such as headache, increased heart rate, dehydration or fever see a medical provider immediately. If your body temperature ever reaches greater than 40.5°C, or you experience seizures or delirium, go to an emergency room immediately.

If you believe that someone has heat stroke, remove tight clothing and move them to an air-conditioned area. You can put a cold wet or ice pack on their neck, armpits and groin. Get them to drink a sports drink, juice or water and go to and seek the aid of a first responder or health care provider.

In order to avoid overheating you can follow these simple rules:

  • Stay hydrated!
    • One of the key causes of heatstroke is dehydration. Be sure to drink lots of fluids before, during and after your time outside – especially if you are doing any physical activity
  • Replenish electrolytes
    • When we sweat, we release salt along with it. This can quickly deplete our salt and unbalance our electrolytes.
    • Make sure you are taking in enough salt, magnesium and other minerals, especially if you are doing any physical activity outside.
  • Wear proper clothing
    • Wear loose fitting, cotton clothing when the temperatures begin to soar
    • Avoid dark colours that absorb heat
  • Stay in the shade
    • Sunburns increase our risk for heatstroke by increasing temperature and inflammation in the skin tissues.
    • Be sure to use SPF and stay in the shade as much as possible


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Climate Effects on Health. Available at April 18, 2016; Accessed: July 14, 2017.

Ferri, F. (2013). Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2013 (pp. 561-562). St. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier Mosby.

Heat Stroke Clinical Presentation: History, Physical Examination, Causes. (2017). Medscape. Retrieved 17 July 2017, from…

Marx, J., Hockberger, R., & Walls, R. (2017). Emergency Medicine (9th ed., pp. 1755-1764). London: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Heat Stroke Clinical Presentation: History, Physical Examination, Causes. (2017). Medscape. Retrieved 17 July 2017, from…


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