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Heatwave Survival: First Aid Advice for Families


Now that the mercury is rising, it’s time to take precautions such as keeping hydrated, wearing appropriate clothing (including a hat), staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm), and applying sunscreen. However, despite our best efforts, sometimes we can succumb to heat- and sun-related illnesses. It’s vital to know what the signs of too much heat exposure are and how to treat it.

Below is lifesaving first aid advice from St John Ambulance with tips to help keep kids cool (especially at night).  


Signs a child is experiencing a heat-related illness

Infants and small children can’t regulate their body temperature in the same way that adults can, which means an increased risk of harm from the heat. On any day of hot weather children can be adversely affected, but during the extended period of a heatwave parents need to be extra vigilant.

Signs that your child is suffering a heat-related illness include:

  • Headache 
  • Dizziness 
  • Feeling or being sick 
  • Sunken eyes or soft spot on infant’s head 
  • Not passing urine for 12 hours or more 

Heat Exhaustion

Long periods in the sun can lead to heat exhaustion, which is more common during a heatwave. Heat exhaustion is caused by a loss of salt and water from the body. It develops slowly and usually happens to people who aren’t used to hot or humid weather.

How to spot heat exhaustion  

There are six key warning signs:   

  • Headache   
  • Dizziness and confusion   
  • Loss of appetite and feeling sick   
  • Sweating with pale clammy skin   
  • Cramps in the arms, legs and stomach   
  • Fast, weakening pulse and breathing   

How to treat someone with heat exhaustion:   

  1. Lie them down in a cool place and raise their legs   
  2. Give them lots of water to drink (or isotonic sports drinks)   
  3. Check their breathing, pulse and responsiveness 
  4. Call emergency service if you are concerned


Heatstroke is more serious than heat exhaustion and can be life-threatening.  

How to spot heatstroke 

There are six key things to look out for:   

  • Headache, dizziness and discomfort   
  • Restlessness and confusion   
  • Hot flushed and dry skin   
  • A fast deterioration in the level of response   
  • A full bounding pulse   
  • Body temperature above 40°C (104°F)   

How to treat someone with heatstroke:    

  1. Move them to a cool place and remove their outer clothing     
  2. Call emergency services    
  3. Sit them down and wrap them in a cool, wet sheet. If a sheet isn’t available fan them or sponge them down with cold water. If available, use cold packs placed in the armpits and around the neck
  4. Once their temperature is back to normal, replace the wet sheet with a dry sheet
  5. While waiting for help to arrive, keep checking their temperature, as well as their breathing, pulse and level of response
  6. If they start getting hot again, repeat the cooling process to lower their temperature



It’s important to avoid too much exposure to the sun by covering up with clothing, staying in the shade and applying high factor sunscreen. In severe sunburn cases the skin can become damaged, turn bright red and blister. People with sunburn can also develop heat exhaustion.   

What to look for:  

  • Reddened skin   
  • Pain in the area of the burn   
  • Blistering   

How to treat someone with sunburn:

  1. Cover the skin with light clothing and move them out of the sun  
  2. Give them cold water to sip  
  3. Cool the skin with cool water for 10 minutes 
  4. Apply after sun lotion to soothe mild sunburn   
  5. If there are blisters see a healthcare professional
  6. In severe cases, treat symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke and get medical help


Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in. This can happen extremely easily during a heatwave so make sure the whole family is sipping lots of water at regular intervals.  

How to spot dehydration   

There are four key signs:   

  • Headaches and lightheadedness   
  • Dry mouth, eyes and lips   
  • Passing only small amounts of dark urine   
  • Muscle cramps   

How to treat someone with dehydration:    

  1. Sit them down and give plenty of water to drink 
  2. Give them an oral rehydration solution drink to help replace salt and other minerals which they’ve lost
  3. If they have any painful cramps, get them to rest, help them stretch and massage the muscles that hurt
  4. Keep checking how they are. If they still feel unwell after rehydrating seek medical advice   

If left untreated, dehydration can develop into heat exhaustion, which is more serious. Therefore it’s important to rehydrate as soon as possible.   

Top tips for keeping small children cool in hot weather and a heatwave  

  • Keep bedroom temperatures between 16-20 degrees Celsius 
  • Never angle fans directly onto a baby or child to cool them down, instead focus on cooling the room and reduce clothing appropriately 
  • Use a lighter bedding and reduce the Tog of sleep bags to accommodate for warmer weather 
  • If safe to do so, open a bedroom door and window to help circulate air through the room 
  • When outside, a sunshade or parasol should be used instead of a muslin cloth to cover infants in prams or buggies
  • Never leave children in cars, even for a short period. The temperature in a car quickly rises and cause harm to those inside. 

“During the day, we can sometimes forget how everyday activities such as driving for long periods and picnics in the hot weather can affect children and infants differently to adults. 

Long car journeys should be broken up with regular stops for rest and hydration. Under six months, breast fed babies do not need additional fluids but will probably need to feed more often. Nursing mothers should ensure their own fluid intake is kept adequate for the conditions. Bottle fed babies may require some additional water, but there is no advice regarding quantity and too much can also be dangerous.”   

Richard Webb, National Clinical Lead for young people at St John Ambulance


St John Ambulance is England’s leading first aid and health response charity.  For more information and a first aid refresher, head to St John Ambulance’s website 

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About Author

I’m Fran: wife, mother-of-three and freelance publicist. My love for communicating and writing mirrors my passion for trying to be the best mum I can be. I love good food & wine, Italian culture and football and have a keen interest in personal finance. I also blog over on Epsom & Ewell Families and Habyts, and write sporadically for a number of other sites.

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