Breakdown: Why it is important to know the difference between heat stroke & heat exhaustion

Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 10:28 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2022 at 10:59 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -Extreme heat is the number one weather related killer in the US. More than 1,300 people die annually due to extreme heat. That’s why it is so important to know the signs and systems of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Of course we all can get overheated in the summer heat but heat exhaustion is a whole other thing, that can be dangerous and shouldn’t be toughed out but taken seriously. If left untreated, it could result in a life-threatening situation known as a Heat Stroke. Heat Strokes occur when your body temperature rises to 103 degrees F or higher. This is due to high humidity levels and the sun being high and extended periods outside during the high heat and humidity of summer.

Heat exhaustion can start with muscle weakness, sudden excessive sweating, nausea and vomiting, and possible fainting according to physicians. A heat stroke is on a whole other level and is when your body’s internal temperature reaches over 103 degrees. You can experience a loss or change of consciousness, agitated, unexplained behavior changes, hot, red, and dry skin. All of these symptoms should be taken seriously. Call your medical professionals immediately if these symptoms start. According healthcare professionals, if you experience heat exhaustion for an extended period of time, heatstroke may occur. Many people will experience heat exhaustion symptoms before heat stroke, but this is not always the case.

There are several symptoms of a heat stroke according to physicians and are listed below:

  • Sudden Severe Headache: It could be a migraine or any headache. If you are spending time in the heat and high humidity, this could be a signal that your body is overheating fast.
  • Unexplained confusion or odd behavior. If someone suddenly becomes dizzy, confused or agitated, or experience loss of consciousness or disorientation, call 911. These are all beginning signs of a heat stroke according to doctors
  • Sudden rush of feeling cold and chills while sweating: When your body can’t regulate your temperature, it may send chills down your spine, literally. If you’re hot and sweating yet experiencing chills and a feeling of being cold, seek emergency care and take steps to cool down your body temperature but not too fast.

Here are some tips for heat exhaustion:

  • Drink cool liquids
  • Go somewhere with cooler air, inside or a shady area
  • Get in cool water if possible
  • Apply cold to key points on the body
  • Move less

These signs may indicate, heat stroke

  • Changes in sweating. When it comes to a heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. A heatstroke however, brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel dry or slightly moist.” Pay attention to your skin and how you feel during strenuous activities while in a warm climate.
  • Racing Heart Rate, Rapid Breathing, Nausea, and vomiting. You could feel your heart rate increase rapidly without doing any strenuous activity and the culprit is a heat stroke. You may begin to feel sick to your stomach or physically vomit. If you experience any of these signs, it’s your body telling you to cool down, stat.

If you experience any of the symptoms physicians suggest you call 911 or if you suspect a heat stroke, call 911. If you know someone who is experiencing heat exhaustion or who showing signs of a heat stroke, doctors suggest taking them to a shaded area and apply cool compresses to their head, chest, neck, and/or back. You may also spray them with cool water from a nearby hose or use a sponge to apply cool water directly over their skin. Remove excess clothing.

Physicians warn not to cool off yourself or others too quickly by offering them ice water to drink. Some doctors warn that by digesting ice cold water during a heat stroke, that it will actually constrict the capillaries, cause stomach cramps. The sudden rush of coldness in your body may do more harm than good.

According to the CDC, the following individuals are most at-risk for a heat stroke:

  • Infants and young children
  • People 65 years of age or older
  • People who are overweight
  • Individuals who overexert during work or exercise
  • People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation
  • People traveling from cooler climates to drastically warmer climates

If you are planning to spend more time outside, be sure to dress in lighter colored clothing and loose light fabrics. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. If you feel like the heat is getting to you, grab a sports drink with electrolytes to replenish what has been lost through sweat. Drink lots of water every day and avoid excessive amounts of alcohol especially. If you or someone you know may be dealing with heat stroke be sure to call 911 right away.

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