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What’s the Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke?

When you think of summer, images of barbeques, swimming and outdoor fun with friends and family probably spring to mind. But while you’re out having fun in the sun, it’s important to remember you need to protect yourself from the heat. This is especially true in these mid-summer months when temperatures soar and humidity levels rise.

The two most common heat-related illnesses to watch out for are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Though both are caused when your body is unable to keep itself cool, they are very different. So, it is important to understand the symptoms of each, as well as how to respond if you or a loved one begins to exhibit signs of either heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion is a condition that occurs when the body is unable to regulate its internal temperature and becomes dehydrated. The causes and symptoms are very recognizable and luckily, preventable.

  • Profuse sweating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Pale, cool, clammy skin
  • Muscle cramping
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting

The treatment for heat exhaustion is to stop physical activity and move to a cool, preferably air-conditioned place as soon as possible.  Lie down with a cool compress and drink water.  The symptoms of heat exhaustion should begin to improve within 30 minutes.

Heat stroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. Unlike heat exhaustion that can be treated at home, heat stroke is a severe medical emergency and requires immediate medical treatment.  The symptoms of heat stroke are:

  • No sweating
  • Red, hot skin
  • Body temperature over 103 degrees
  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Loss of consciousness or altered mental state

If you of someone you know is experiencing any signs of a heat stroke, call 911 immediately.  They will send help as well as walk you through the steps to cool down the patient with a compress or a fan until help arrives.  Left untreated, heat stroke can quickly cause organ damage and lead to serious complications or death.

We all look forward to the summer months of outdoor fun, but be sure to follow these guidelines to keep your family safe:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, before, during and after physical activity. 
  • Avoid sodas and sugary drinks as well as alcohol
  • Avoid physical activity in the direct sunlight during the warmer months
  • Wear light colored and lightweight clothing when exercising or working outdoors
  • Be aware of medications, obesity, age, and any other factors that might put you at higher risk.
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