Difference between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Posted by The Urgency Room on Friday, August 11, 2023
Keywords: Heat Exhaustion Heat Stroke

During the summer, the two most severe heat-related illnesses a person will likely experience are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. While they sound similar, they’re actually very different illnesses. Each requires treatment to prevent further illness and severe physical consequences.

With temperatures soaring as this season peaks, more people may experience heat-related illness. The symptoms are often unpleasant, beginning as nausea, light-headedness, and fatigue, and can become life-threatening if proper treatment isn’t sought.

Protect yourself and your family during this time by learning about the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Learn the symptoms of each and the appropriate course of treatment so you can still have fun in the sun without risking serious health complications.

What Is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion happens when the body can no longer regulate its temperature reliably. When a person reaches the stage of heat exhaustion, they’ve lost too much water and salt through excessive sweating. 

At this stage, your body is likely suffering the effects of dehydration. Even if you’re continuously drinking water, it may not be enough to replace the fluids you lose while sweating in extreme temperatures and conditions. 

Some of the most common symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • High body temperature (between 101-104 F)
  • Pale skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Accelerated breathing and heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting

How Do You Treat Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is very unpleasant, and it can quickly turn into heat stroke if you can’t cool your body down. Many people can treat heat exhaustion at home by cooling down their bodies. 

If you believe you’re suffering from heat exhaustion, it’s recommended to get out of the sun immediately. Seek shelter in the shade or indoors and replace the fluids you’ve lost by slowly drinking water. 

Other methods that can help cool your body down include:

  • Taking a cool shower or bath.
  • Removing any tight or restricting clothing.
  • Applying a cool compress to your face and throat. 

How Long Does Heat Exhaustion Last?

Many people recover from heat exhaustion within 24-48 hours. However, if you have severe symptoms or cannot replace fluids due to experiencing water nausea, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.

If you’re unsure whether you require treatment for your symptoms, make a telehealth appointment so a professional can assess your condition. They’ll guide you on whether you need to be seen in person or can continue treating your condition at home.

What Is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is the most severe of all heat-related illnesses. 

At this stage, a person’s body is severely overheated and unable to cool itself down. An internal body temperature of 104 F is the main indicator of heat stroke. Although, a person with this condition will experience many other symptoms.

Some of the most common symptoms of heat stroke include: 

  • Temperature of 104 F
  • Dry, red skin
  • Inability to sweat
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Accelerated breathing and heart rate
  • Seizures

What Are the Dangers of a Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is an incredibly dangerous condition. At its most severe, heat stroke can be fatal. 

However, every person should be aware of other dangers of heat stroke. If untreated, this condition can lead to vital organ damage. Your brain and other internal organs can begin to swell if you don’t receive treatment quickly enough, leading to permanent damage. 

Avoid these serious and life-threatening complications by learning the symptoms of heat stroke and the proper course of action.

What to Do for a Heat Stroke?

If you believe someone is experiencing heat stroke, it’s imperative to contact 911 immediately. The person needs immediate medical attention to treat this condition. While you’re waiting for paramedics to arrive, you’ll likely be instructed to do the following things:

  • Move the person to a shaded or cooler location
  • Use cold compresses to lower their body temperature
  • Do not give fluids

It may seem counterproductive to not give a person experiencing heat stroke fluids, but it’s very important to avoid overwhelming them with fluids. Aggressive resuscitation of fluids can lead to pulmonary edema, which comes with its own set of challenges and dangers. 

Follow the medical professional's instructions and support the person with heat stroke until paramedics arrive to take over.

Save a Life: Know the Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke 

Learning the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke can save a person’s life. While the initial symptoms can seem similar, the two have key differences to watch out for. 

Check the color of the affected person’s skin, check their temperature, and assess whether they’re still sweating. 

When in doubt, call 911. If you’re unsure if you can comfortably treat your heat exhaustion at home, schedule an appointment at The Urgency Room to be assessed by a medical professional. 

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