St John issues first aid advice for holidaying families as European heatwave continues

Wednesday 26 July 2023: As parts of Europe continue to swelter, enduring record temperatures, St John Ambulance issues top tips to parents and carers travelling abroad to keep kids cool – helping families spot key signs they could be suffering from the harmful effects of the heat. 

The first aid and health response charity has issued simple lifesaving first aid advice which explains how to keep babies and children safe during a heatwave - particularly at night. 

Signs a child is experiencing 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 

Richard Webb, National Clinical Lead for young people at St John Ambulance said: “Most people can regulate their body temperature well and respond to heat stressors with signs of cooling down such as sweating and feeling the urge to drink. Infants and small children are unable to sweat and can’t cool down, cannot independently access shade, fluids, or communicate feelings of thirst - leading to an increased risk of harm from the heat and result in conditions such as dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. 

“While practical measures such as wearing a wide brimmed sun hat, staying out of the sun at peak times, - usually between 11-3pm - and wearing a broad spectrum suncream with a minimum SPF 30 applying frequently, should be taken during the day, extra care should also be taken at night to ensure children and infants remain comfortable and cool.” 

St John Ambulance’s top tips for keeping small children cool include: 

  • Keeping bedroom temperatures between 16-20 degrees Celsius 
  • Never angling 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 

Richard continues: “The heat can prove uncomfortable for many of us not least for children and infants who can struggle to regulate their body temperature whether during the day or at night. 

“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.  

“When outside, a sunshade or parasol should also be used instead of a muslin cloth to cover infants in prams or buggies to prevent hot air becoming trapped and increasing the risk of overheating. Never leave children in cars, even for a short period. The temperature in a car and quickly rise and cause harm to those inside. 

“There are plenty of resources out there which help people understand how to stay safe in heatwave conditions. I’d highly recommend anyone who needs more information head to St John Ambulance’s website to brush up on their first aid knowledge so they can help themselves and others reduce their risk of heat-related illnesses.” 

But it’s not just children and infants who can feel the effects of the heat, so too can the vulnerable and elderly - particularly if living with a long-term health condition or taking medication such as beta-blockers or diuretics, which can affect sweating.  

Richard said: “If people are concerned about their medications and how they may affect their ability to stay cool in the heat, I’d recommend they speak to their local pharmacist and continue to take any medication as prescribed unless told otherwise by their GP or the Consultant supervising their care.” 

Hot weather first aid advice from St John Ambulance: 

Heat exhaustion  

Long periods in the sun can take its toll after a while and can lead to heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is caused by a loss of salt and water from the body, usually through excessive sweating. It develops slowly and usually happens to people who aren’t used to hot, humid weather. If you’re at a festival and it’s very hot, it’s easy to suffer from heat exhaustion.   

How to spot heat exhaustion:    

There are six key things that you may lead you to suspect that someone has heat exhaustion:   

  • 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. Help them to lie 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.   

Suggest they get medical advice. Call 999/112 if you are concerned.   

Heat stroke    

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

How to spot heat stroke:    

There are the 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 999/112.    
  3. Sit the individual down and wrap them in a cool, wet sheet. If there isn’t a sheet available fan them or sponge them down with cold water to keep them cool.  If available, use cold packs placed in the armpits and around the neck.  
  4. Once their temperature seems to have gone 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.  

Sun burn  

Whether you’re out in the park, or relaxing on the beach, 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. Most sunburn is mild, but in severe cases the skin can become damaged, turn lobster red and blister. People with sunburn may also develop heat exhaustion.  

What to look for:

  • Reddened skin   
  • Pain in the area of the burn   
  • There may be 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, advise that they see a healthcare professional.   
  6. Treat any symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke and get medical help.    


Dehydration happens when someone loses more fluid than they take in, especially if it’s really hot and sweaty outside, so make sure you are sipping lots of water at regular intervals.  

How to spot dehydration:    

There are four key things to look for if someone is suffering from dehydration:   

  • They may complain of headaches and light headedness
  • Dry mouth, eyes and lips
  • Pass only small amounts of dark urine
  • Have muscle cramps    

How to treat someone with dehydration:    

  1. Help them to sit down and give them plenty of water to drink.   
  2. Giving them an oral rehydration solution to drink will help replace salt and other minerals which they’ve lost – you can buy this in sachets from any pharmacy.   
  3. If they have any painful cramps, encourage them to rest, help them stretch and massage their muscles that hurt.   
  4. Keep checking how they’re feeling – if they still feel unwell once they’re rehydrated then encourage them to seek advice from a healthcare professional promptly.   

If left untreated, someone with dehydration can develop heat exhaustion, which is more serious, so it’s important to make sure they rehydrate themselves as soon as possible.   

More information and lifesaving first aid advice is available at: