Developing a heat-related illness is one of the biggest summer health hazards. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year. The main cause of any heat-related illness is your body’s inability to cool itself down. When the body’s internal temperature is not regulating properly, it is less able to cool itself efficiently. Understanding the differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke can save your life or that of a loved one.
Prolonged exposure to high temperatures and high humidity, combined with strenuous physical activity can lead to heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can also occur as a result of dehydration, alcohol use and wearing excess clothing.
The symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, extreme tiredness and weakness, dizziness and headache. Symptoms may develop over time or occur suddenly.
If you or someone you know is experiencing heat exhaustion, stop all activity, get to a cool spot and rest. Drink cool water or a sports drink containing electrolytes. If the signs or symptoms worsen, or do not improve within one hour, seek help from a medical professional right away.
If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that can result in brain damage, kidney failure or even death. This type of heat-related illness occurs when overexposure to heat overwhelms the body’s internal temperature-regulating mechanisms.
The signs of heatstroke include an elevated body temperature (above 103°F), hot and dry skin (no sweating), rapid pulse, loss of consciousness and nausea or vomiting.
If you think a person is experiencing heatstroke, seek immediate medical attention or call 911.
While waiting for medical attention, you can help someone with heat stroke by moving the victim to a shady area or indoors, cooling down the body by spraying with a garden hose or sponging with cool water and fanning. Do not give the person fluids.
In a medical emergency like heatstroke, minutes matter. Check our Lovelace emergency room wait times here.