What is Heat Stroke vs Heat Exhaustion

Whenever you work or play in the heat, especially if it’s humid, understanding what is heat stroke vs heat exhaustion could make the difference between life and death. Both are heat illnesses wherein one requires emergency health care attention and the other can often be relieved with self care measures.

What is heat stroke? Heat stroke is the inability of your body to cool itself through sweating. As a result, your core temperature rises rapidly because a substantial failure of your natural cooling system. If nothing is done to assist in cooling, your internal temperature can rise very high very quickly. And in a relatively short span of time an excessive core temperature can cause permanent organ damage or death.

One of the most common situations for heat stroke to occur is hot humid temperatures that limit amount and speed of evaporation coupled with increased heat production of working muscles. In other words, performing demanding physical activity in hot, humid weather.

What is heat exhaustion? Heat exhaustion involves a rise of core temperature as well, yet the increase is more gradual and not as great. In this case the problem is not with lack of evaporation, but instead dehydration. A common reason for this temperature rise is sustained high temperature exposure without adequate fluid replacement for sweating purposes. Caveat: heat exhaustion has the potential to advance into heat stroke if steps are not taken to overcome it.

How can you tell whether you’re suffering with heat stroke vs heat exhaustion? A couple of their warning signs and symptoms do differ. And knowing these differences will help you assess an appropriate response. However, whenever in doubt always seek emergency help.

Generally, there are three subtle differences you might be able to observe when assessing someone for heat exhaustion vs heat stroke: sweat, skin and pulse rate. With heat stroke there’s usually no sweating, their skin is hot, red and dry, and their pulse is fast and strong. On the other hand, heat exhaustion produces heavy sweating, pallor and a fast, but weak pulse. Always remember that heat stroke can cascade into a lethal health condition, so never hesitate to get help if you’re not sure.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke cause other signs and symptoms as well, for instance:

Unconsciousness indicates heat stroke.

Treatment for both heat related illnesses is cooling your overheated body by any means available. Some ideas include:

  • drink cool fluids
  • remove clothing
  • cool skin with cool water
  • find & go to nearest shade
  • move air across skin ~ fan, blow

With heat stroke, medical attention must be summoned immediately.

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