Here's the Important Difference Between Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion
Know the signs and be prepared.
It's getting hot out there and as summer rolls on, it's important to be careful in the heat. That means wearing sunscreen, keeping as cool as possible, dressing for the weather, and staying hydrated. Whether you are indoors but never quite got around to installing air conditioning or work or play outside even during a heat wave, it's important to know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses. That includes knowing the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion, because one of them can be life threatening.
Be on the lookout for heat-related illness if the thermometer or the heat index tips over 91 Fahrenheit (which happens often enough in August in the South), and keep in mind that humidity only adds to the intensity. As with many illnesses, the very young and the very old may be most at risk for heat-related illnesses. That's one of the many reasons why children should never be left in hot cars and the elderly should always be checked on during heat waves. Of course, they aren't the only ones that may be hit with heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Heat stroke can also be triggered while doing physical activity or labor in the heat with factors like dehydration, alcohol consumption, and too many layers of clothing increasing the risk.
Heat-related illnesses usually (but not always) go in three phases: First are heat cramps, which tend to be marked by heavy sweating during exercise, and muscles cramps. The CDC recommends stopping physical activity, moving to a cool place, and drinking water or a sports drink while waiting for cramps to go away.
Next is heat exhaustion. The warning signs of heat exhaustion, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health, include:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
The skin may be cool and moist. The victim's pulse will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow.
If it's hot out and those symptoms appear in you or someone else, move to a cool place, loosen clothing, take a cool bath or use cool cloths, and sip water. If the symptoms last longer than an hour or get worse, or if there is an underlying medical issue such as high blood pressure, get medical help.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is "a life-threatening condition that occurs when your core body temperature reaches 104 F (40 C) or higher." They add that "Heatstroke requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent damage to your brain and other vital organs that can result in death."
Warning signs of heatstroke, according to the CDC, include:
- High body temperature (103 or higher)
- Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
- Passing out or losing consciousness
If you think you or someone else is experiencing a heat stroke, you should call 911 right away. Then, move them to a cooler area, help them cool down with a cool bath or cool cloths, and despite what you may want to do, don't give them anything to drink.
Stay safe and be sure to pay close attention to yourself, friends, family, and neighbors during those increasing heat waves.