When you’re wrapped up in summer fun, heatstroke is probably the last thing on your mind. Still, it’s important to consider your health and safety when you’re out catching rays. Participating in outdoor activities in the summer heat makes it harder for your body to cool itself, which can lead to heat exhaustion and, eventually, heatstroke. But what is the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and how can you prevent heat-related illness this summer?
The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines both heat exhaustion and heatstroke as heat-related illnesses. Heat exhaustion is the less severe precursor to heatstroke, often brought on by high temperatures, high humidity, intense physical activity, or a combination of all three. While easily treatable, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke – which can be life-threatening. Keep an eye out for these signs and symptoms of possible heat exhaustion, which can develop suddenly:
- Muscle cramps
- Cool, moist skin with goosebumps when in the heat
- Heavy sweating
- Faintness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
- Weak, rapid pulse
If heat exhaustion goes untreated, it can result in heatstroke, a far more serious condition. Left untreated, heatstroke can rapidly damage your internal organs. Heatstroke typically occurs when a patient’s core body temperature reaches 104° F or higher, but there are several other symptoms to watch out for:
- Confused behavior (Heatstroke can temporarily alter your mental state, causing confusion, agitation, slurred speech, delirium, seizures, and even coma.)
- Unusual sweating (According to the Mayo Clinic, different kinds of heatstroke cause different kinds of sweating. For example, with a heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. When heatstroke is induced by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel slightly moist. Your skin may also turn red or flushed.)
- Nausea, vomiting, and headaches
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Racing heart rate
Treating Heat-Related Illness
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are both treatable, but they should be taken extremely seriously. If you notice symptoms of heat exhaustion in yourself or a loved one, you should immediately stop all activity, move to a cooler place, and sip cool water or a sports drink (like Gatorade) until the symptoms improve. If your symptoms do not improve within an hour, or if you start showing symptoms of heatstroke like agitation or confusion, you should call 911 immediately. Left untreated, heatstroke can damage your brain, heart, and kidneys in a very short period of time. You are at increasingly higher risk of long-term damage the longer you wait to seek treatment for heatstroke.
So, what is the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke? Heat exhaustion typically precedes heatstroke with milder symptoms – but both should be taken very seriously. Remember to keep an eye on your energy level and stay hydrated as you’re enjoying fun in the sun this summer. Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out for medical attention if you experience symptoms of heat-related illness.
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