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


For many in the south, the summertime always brings the potential danger of heat related injuries, especially among children and the elderly. One question that we get asked here at the station from time to time is, “What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?”. We did some investigating and there are some similarities, and also some major differences.

Heat Exhaustion is usually accompanied by a fever no higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, excessive thirst, nausea, fainting, cool and clammy skin, weakness, muscle aches, heavy sweating, slow heartbeat and dizziness. If you suspect someone is suffering from exhaustion, get them indoors or in the shade immediately, encourage them to eat or drink (no caffeine or alcohol), take a cool bath, shower or sponge bath.

Heat Stroke may develop following heat exhaustion if the condition is not treated. It occurs when the body’s temperature rises and the cooling system stops working. This potentially life-threatening condition is characterized by nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, fatigue, rapid heart rate, hot and dry skin, shortness of breath and decreased urination. If you suspect someone is having a heat stroke, get them inside immediately, undress and sponge cool (not cold) water all over their body (ice packs work well too). do NOT give liquids and call for emergency assistance.

Of course the best way to keep these things from happening is prevention. Drink plenty of fluids before doing any outdoor activity, even if they are not thirsty. Dress your child in loose fitting, light colored clothing. Limited their exposure to before noon or after 5 if at all possible, and make sure they come in if you suspect at all they may be getting overheated. Knowing the signs can keep your loved one protected from heat related injuries.

(Information gathered from WebMD website, and Colorado Children’s Hospital website)


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