What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a person becomes extremely overheated. Basically, the body's temperature rises while its ability to cool off shuts down.

Your baby or toddler might get heat stroke, also called hyperthermia or sun stroke, if he is outside for too long in very hot weather,  for example – especially if he becomes dehydrated or is dressed too warmly.

Never leave your child in a parked car – not even for a moment. Heat stroke can occur within minutes because the interior temperature can quickly climb much higher than the outside temperature

What's the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion?

Both are types of heat illnesses, and both happen when the body isn't able to cool itself. Heat exhaustion is milder than heat stroke and can usually be taken care of by moving the child out of the heat and cooling off his body. If not addressed, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which requires emergency medical care.

What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion in kids?

Your child may have the following symptoms:

  • Unusually thirst or fatigue
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Leg cramps or stomach cramps
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • A fever, but under 104 degrees Fahrenheit

What are the symptoms of heat stroke in kids?

Heat stroke symptoms largely overlap the symptoms of heat exhaustion, but if your child's heat exhaustion progresses to heat stroke, he may also have:

  • A fever that's 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) or higher – but often with no sweating
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Trouble walking
  • Seizures
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Unconsciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shock

What should I do if I think my child has heat exhaustion?

If your baby or toddler is showing signs of heat exhaustion but it hasn't progressed to heat stroke:

  • Bring him indoors – to an air-conditioned room, if possible.
  • Give your baby plenty of breast milk or formula. If he's 6 months or older, offer sips of water or a chilled pediatric electrolyte solution – talk to the doctor for dosage directions based on your child's age and weight.
  • Give him a cool bath.
  • Let him stay naked.


If your child doesn't seem to improve quickly, gets worse, or shows signs of severe dehydration, seek emergency treatment.

What should I do if I suspect my child has heat stroke?


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Call 911 if you suspect heat stroke
Also, try to bring your child's internal temperature down as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence – a baby or toddler suffering from severe heat stroke can rapidly become unconscious.

While you're waiting for the ambulance:

  • Lay him down in a cool area. If you're outside, find shade, but if at all possible move him inside to an air-conditioned room.
  • Undress your child completely.
  • Sponge her body gently with a cloth dipped in cool water.
  • Fan her.
  • Talk reassuringly to keep her calm.
  • Do not offer food or drink: If your child has heat stroke, his body won't be able to digest food or process fluids.
  • Do not give medication: Medication used to treat fevers won't lower the high body temperature caused by heat stroke, and may cause internal damage.

    What will happen at the hospital?

    The doctor will examine your baby or toddler, take her temperature, and take steps to cool him down as quickly as possible. For example, the hospital may administer an ice bath while carefully monitoring your child's vitals. (Warning: Do not give your child an ice bath at home – overcooling your child can cause a dangerously low body temperature.)

    To make sure the heat stroke hasn't damaged any of your child's organs (which can start to happen if his temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit), the doctor may order tests, including a:

    • Urine test
    • Blood test
    • Chest x-ray
    • ECG (electrocardiogram)

    How can I prevent my child from getting heat stroke or heat exhaustion?

    It doesn't take much to bring on overheating, especially if your child is not used to hot weather (in the beginning of summer, for example).

    • Again, never leave a child in a parked car – not even for a moment.
    • Dress your child in lightweight, loose-fitting clothing in warm weather.
    • Encourage him to drink more fluids on hot days.
    • Try to stay in the shade when outside.
    • When it's really hot, stay inside.
    • Check that he's staying cool during car rides.
    • If your home is very hot and you don't have air-conditioning, seek comfort at a library, the mall, or a community cooling shelter.


    In warm weather, protect your child from sun exposure as well as heat. 


    Learn more


    Heat rash

    Playground safety

    Water safety