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Know the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion

Village News Staff

While summer is a season known for outdoor activities and typically great for camping, hiking and barbecues, everyone needs to be aware of the potentially significant threat to those who aren't careful to know when they've been in the sun too long.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two of the biggest concerns for those spending time under the summer sun. Differentiating between the two and understanding the causes and symptoms of each can help revelers survive the summer heat.

What is heat exhaustion?

Those who work or exercise in humid or hot conditions might have experienced some level of heat exhaustion. When a person is suffering from heat exhaustion, their body is losing its fluids through sweat and that loss causes dehydration. The body will also overheat, with its temperature rising as high as 104 F.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke can be life-threatening. When a person is experiencing heat stroke, their body's cooling system stops working, and the body's temperature can rise to 105 F or higher. The cooling system is controlled by the brain, so heat stroke can even damage the brain and/or additional internal organs.

What causes heat exhaustion?

Many people who suffer from heat exhaustion are not used to exercising or working in hot or humid environments, an unfamiliarity that makes them susceptible to heat exhaustion. Especially humid days make it difficult for the body to properly evaporate sweat, and the body will lose fluids and electrolytes. As it is happening, people who do not adequately replace those lost fluids are more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion.

What causes heat stroke?

Unlike heat exhaustion, which is largely caused by external conditions, heat stroke can result from an existing medical condition or medications. People with certain conditions or on medications that hinder the body's ability to sweat may be predisposed to heat stroke because their cooling mechanisms are already impaired or compromised. But heat stroke can also be caused by anyone exerting themselves in a hot environment, even if those people do not have a preexisting medical condition.

What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion symptoms vary but can include: sweating profusely, feelings of dizziness, muscle cramps or pains, fainting, dark-colored urine, dehydration, nausea, pale skin, rapid heartbeat and headache.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

A body temperature of 105 F or above is a telltale indicator of heat stroke, but additional symptoms may include: throbbing headache; flushed, hot and dry skin; slightly elevated blood pressure; dizziness and light-headedness; nausea and vomiting; rapid, shallow breathing; lack of sweating despite the heat; rapid heartbeat that is strong or weak and unconsciousness.

If heat exhaustion is suspected, it is important to get the person out of the heat immediately, ideally into an air-conditioned room but at least under a tree in the shade if that's the only option. Call a doctor if they cannot keep fluids down or seem incoherent.

Those who can keep fluids down should drink plenty of non-caffeinated and nonalcoholic beverages and remove any tight or unnecessary clothing. In addition, they can take a cool shower or bath but only if someone is around to monitor them.

If a person is displaying symptoms of heat stroke, which is potentially life-threatening, immediately call 911. Move the person to an air-conditioned room, and try to get their body temperature down to a more manageable 101 F or 102 F. Wet the person's skin and apply ice packs to the armpits, groin, neck and back, as these areas have an abundance of blood vessels close to the skin and cooling them can help lower body temperature.


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