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The Main Differences Between Heat Exhaustion And Heat Stroke

The Main Differences Between Heat Exhaustion And Heat Stroke

The sun can be very dangerous if you're not prepared for it.

The sun can be very dangerous if you’re not prepared for it.

In summer, everyone wants to be outdoors, but be careful out there. That lovely old sun can be very dangerous indeed. Every year in America, more than 300 people die from heat related conditions, and many thousands more suffer in the heat. Often, people use the terms ‘heat exhaustion’ and ‘heat stroke’ interchangeably, but the two conditions are very different. The only real similarity is that both conditions can be prevented.  These are the main differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion

A day by the ocean or a picnic in the park in the full glare of the sun’s rays can bring on heat exhaustion. Dehydration due to the heat can lead to headaches, shivering, sweating and a faint pulse. The skin might feel cold and clammy, while the body temperature is near to normal, although some symptoms may be similar to those of ‘flu or a fever. Vertigo, nausea and fainting are also possible.

Seek the shade, rest and drink some water to replace any lost fluids, and you will soon recover. Heat exhaustion may be unpleasant at the time, but it’s pretty harmless unless you ignore it.

Heat stroke

This is the result of ignoring the signs of heat exhaustion, and while heat exhaustion creeps up on you gradually, heat stroke can hit you like a high speed train. Unfortunately, the results can be every bit as deadly.

The US Department of Labor website describes heat stroke as ‘The most serious heat related disorder … A medical emergency that may result in death.’  Normal body temperature is around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but in the heat of the sun it can quickly soar to 105 degrees or more. The body isn’t designed to cope with all that heat, so the internal organs will start to lose efficiency. Because of this, the body’s own natural cooling mechanism – perspiration – may not kick in.

Symptoms of heat stroke might include confusion, irrational behaviour, fainting and maybe convulsions. The skin will be hot and dry to the touch. Call the emergency services, and meanwhile, escort the patient into a shady area, and if possible take the temperature with a clinical thermometer. Dampen the skin to begin the cooling process and offer a drink of water if the victim is conscious and lucid.

As with many things, prevention is infinitely better than cure. Prepare for the heat by wearing loose clothes made from natural fibres. Use a high factor sunscreen and re-apply regularly. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to keep the head and neck cool. Carry water with you and sip from it regularly. By the time you actually feel thirsty, you may already be suffering from heat exhaustion. While it may be tempting to stay in the sun, be sure to spend time in the shade too. That suntan may look good, but heat stroke just isn’t healthy.

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