Sunstroke in a child: symptoms, how to treat?

20 May 2024

The period of summer heat and holiday trips is the time when the subject of sunstroke returns to the wallpaper, especially in children. How to recognize the symptoms of sunstroke in a child and what to do when they occur? How long after observing the symptoms of sunstroke in a child should an ambulance be called and is it always necessary? 

How to effectively prevent heat stroke and sunstroke in children? In this article, we present the topic of dealing with sunstroke in a child.

Heat exhaustion, heatstroke, maybe sunstroke in a child: what are the symptoms?

High temperatures and harsh sun can take a toll on anyone, but young children are a group particularly vulnerable to overheating, including occurrence of sunstroke. Sunstroke in children is a form of heatstroke. As a result of high exposure to solar radiation (especially the head and neck), the child may experience both overheating of the body and skin burns. On the forum, experts emphasize how crucial it is to prevent heat stroke in children (we write more about it in the last chapter).

Jolanta Wacławek

Pediatrician in the One-Day Hospitalization Department, Institute of Mother and Child

The expert advises:

Every parent should know the symptoms of sunstroke in a child to be able to react as soon as possible and help an overheated baby. Heat exhaustion (heat fatigue) is very common in children, but if we do not react in time, the child may develop heat/sunstroke, which is a direct threat to life. 

Maybe it's not sunstroke in a child yet?

What are the symptoms heat exhaustion?

  • on a hot day, the child becomes cranky, irritable, it is difficult to calm him down or, on the contrary, the child becomes lethargic and apathetic, dizziness and headaches may occur;
  • the child has an elevated body temperature (up to 39°C);
  • the child sweats profusely, the skin is red (sometimes pale) and moist;
  • you are dehydrated (dry mouth, slightly sunken fontanelle in infants).

If the caregivers do not react in time, the child can develop very quickly sunstroke symptoms.

Symptoms of sunstroke

Among the most watched sunstroke symptoms lists:

  • the child's body temperature may exceed 40 ° C, accompanied by shivering and uncontrollable muscle contractions;
  • sweating stops - skin is red, hot and dry;
  • the eyes and fontanel (in young children) are sunken;
  • there is nausea, vomiting, often also diarrhea and oliguria;
  • the child is breathing very quickly (hyperventilation), has headaches and dizziness, loss of consciousness (fainting) and breathing difficulties may occur;
  • edema may occur, especially in the lower limbs.

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Aleksandra Swiebod

Head of the Department of Assessment and Development of Cooperation at the Institute of Mother and Child

What to dowhen we suspect sunstroke in a child: how to treat, after what time call an ambulance?

When we observe heat fatigue in a child, first of all, we start cooling and hydrating the toddler:

  • we take the child to a shaded and airy place;
  • we undress as much as possible (we increase the body's heat dissipation surface);
  • we give something to drink (water, electrolytes, but not very cold!);
  • we can use a cool (but not icy) compress on the head and neck, or we prepare a cool (approx. 28-30 ° C) bath for the child;
  • We do not give the baby any medications.

How long does it take to tell if heat fatigue is turning into sunstroke in a child? When, after about 20-30 minutes of cooling down and rehydrating, the child's condition begins to improve, the body temperature gradually decreases - you should continue observation of the toddler, staying in a shady, cool place.

What to dowhen the child's condition worsens?

On the forum, parents often ask when to call an ambulance in case of symptoms of sunstroke in a child?

Jolanta Wacławek

Pediatrician in the One-Day Hospitalization Department, Institute of Mother and Child

The expert advises:

Every moment counts here, so when the child's body temperature is 39-40 C or more, the toddler refuses to drink fluids, loses consciousness, has convulsions, breathing disorders, vomits - we call an ambulance immediately. Caregivers should also call an ambulance if they are unsure whether the child's condition is improving and/or do not know what to do, how to treat a child who is suspected of having sunstroke. 

What to do when Did your child lose consciousness during sunstroke? How to treat a toddler? 

First of all, we call an ambulance, do not give the child any medications, do not drink by force (aspiration may occur), undress the toddler and place him in a safe position (the so-called fixed position) and cool the child with cool compresses until the arrival of the medics.

What should you do if your child with sunstroke has difficulty breathing? In such a situation, we put the child on his back and start resuscitation, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. A further decision on how to treat your child's sunstroke will be made by the medical staff.

What to doto sunstroke in a child did not occur: 5 basic principles

On the forum, parents often ask how long after a sunstroke occurs in a child, but the answer to this question is not clear. Everything depends on:

  • how much the child is in the sun;
  • is he wearing a hat;
  • does he often drink water/suck the breast;
  • what is the temperature and humidity of the air.

The most important is prevention. Instead of wondering how to treat sunstroke in a child, first of all, you should focus on what to do to prevent sunstroke in your child. Let's remember about some basic tips.

Walk in the morning or afternoon 

In the summer, let's not go outside with the child during the greatest sunshine and heat, i.e. between time. 11-16. If necessary, let's choose a walk or play in a shady park, in the forest.

Let's use sunscreen 

The use of sunscreen is important in the prevention of sunburn of the skin, but it will not protect the child against sunstroke - overheating of the body.

Hydration is the key

In the heat, we often offer the toddler water to drink, preferably spring water, low-mineralized. On the forum, parents ask whether infants under 6 months of age should be supplemented with water in the heat? There is no need.

In hot weather, we put the baby to the breast as often as possible (even every 1-0,5 hours). Formula-fed infants in hot weather may be given a small amount of water (although it is not absolutely necessary), preferably shortly after a meal.

Let's adjust the child's clothes to the temperature

Staying in the shade, let's dress the babies lightly in the heat, and if necessary, let's leave them in diapers. Toddlers sitting or running in the sun (we do not allow it during the times of the greatest insolation) should always wear Headgear (preferably with a neck guard) i airy clothes (the ones with a UV filter are worth noting).

Let's take care of access to fresh air 

We never cover the booth of the pram/gondola with a tetra diaper or other material that will protect against sunburn, but may make it difficult for the baby to breathe and cause heatstroke - overheating of the baby. Under no circumstances (even for a moment!) Let's not leave the child in a car heated by the sun - such behavior poses a real threat to the health and life of the child.


Jolanta Wacławek

Pediatrician in the One-Day Hospitalization Department, Institute of Mother and Child

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