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  • Writer's pictureElanor Sung, LMT

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke: Recognition, Care and Prevention

As summer blazes into our area and the heat becomes alarmingly hot, I thought it would be appropriate to blog about the differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. This may be a common theme, but it is something important for us to understand.

So, what is Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke? Well, let me answer that for you. When you are out in the heat and your body doesn’t have a chance to cool down, you then overheat and this becomes a health hazard. First you enter HEAT EXHAUSTION. You may feel dizzy or nauseous with a small headache. You may sweat profusely, have muscle cramps and be very thirsty while also having cool clammy skin (due to the sweat).

What do you do for someone who may be suffering from heat exhaustion? Well, if in doubt, call 9-1-1. It is better to be safe than sorry. In the meantime (or if you decide not to call), get them into a cool shaded area, preferably with Air Conditioning. You want to cool their body off. Have them lie down spread out like the Vitruvian Man to allow for cooler air to hit all the warm places on their body. If available, place cool compresses on their underarms, groin, back of the neck and feet to speed up the cooling process. If they are conscious, give them SIPS of water to drink. If they gulp or guzzle the water, they may end up vomiting, and that would negate the water intake. If you didn’t call 9-1-1, and their symptoms don’t abate or get worse, now is the time to call. When their body is cool, and they can sit up and move again, move them into a cool place and allow them to rest. DO NOT GO BACK OUT INTO THE SUN!

If you aren’t able to catch the Heat Exhaustion, this can lead to HEAT STROKE. Now this is a medical emergency. Their body is starting to shut down and try to save what it can. Without proper medical attention, this can be deadly. Texas averages around 70 heat stroke related deaths per year. First, you need to know the signs of heat stroke. The most important sign is that they will be hot, but not be sweating. Their body is no longer able to produce enough sweat to try to help cool the body. This will result in their skin turning red and hot, and their body temperature will start to elevate. This is bad! They may also complain of severe migraine type headaches, feeling faint or losing consciousness, as well as being nauseous and vomiting.

What do we do? Immediately call 9-1-1. Do all the things you would do for someone with heat exhaustion EXCEPT DO NOT GIVE THEM ANYTHING TO DRINK. Giving the person something to drink may throw their body into shock and may lead to more medical complications. The most important thing is to get the body to cool down. If you can get them into a cool or cold water bath, do so. Cool them down.

“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

Ben Franklin

So how do we prevent these types of heat injury? Well, first, if you know you are going to be out in the heat, plan your wardrobe accordingly.

  • Wear light-weight, light colored clothing made of a breathable material. Light colored material reflects more light, and light-weight materials are not as insulative.

  • The second most important thing is to stay hydrated. According to the CDC you should be drinking a cup (8 oz) of water for every 15-20 minutes you are out in the heat. So about 1.5-2 16 oz bottles an hour.

  • If you do have to be active outside, pace yourself. Take breaks and escape the heat if you have the chance.

  • If you notice any symptoms of heat exhaustion in yourself, stop what you are doing and go into some shade or A/C.

Also, please watch your pets and children. If your kids are sweating and hot, take precautions. Make sure that you have enough water for your kids and pets! They can also get heat injuries as well, and may not be able to tell you about them.


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