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The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke (and How to Avoid Both This Summer!)

With summer officially underway, each day is getting warmer and warmer, and with this heat increase also comes a potential increase in heat exhaustion and heat stroke! We sat down with our Health and Safety Manager, Evan Marsh, to discuss the differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke and ways to prevent the experience! Evan knows first-hand that heat exhaustion and heat stroke are not a fun experience, to the point where he also faced 2nd-degree burns from the sun (so, we think it is safe to say - he's an expert!).

Evan shared a story from his early 20s, where he did not properly prepare for being outside all day. Without water or sunscreen, he had found himself becoming dizzy and fatigued as the morning progressed. Next came a headache, and then, nausea (which left him unable to drink any type of fluid). What Evan did not know at the time was that he was experiencing Heat Exhaustion.

Heat Exhaustion occurs when your body loses excessive amounts of water and salt, typically from sweating. Whether you're on a work site, enjoying the outdoors, or at a concert like Evan was, with excessive heat and minimal hydration, your body will pull any moisture it can.

After a while, Evan started to notice that his skin was turning red and direct sunlight burned. He started looking for shady areas and found it difficult to move or sit without his friends' assistance as his legs and arms had cramped up, and he was disoriented and exhausted. While Evan thought he was getting better because the excessive sweating had stopped, he had not realized that he was actually in the middle of Heat Stroke.

Heat Stroke is a serious medical emergency that occurs when your body is unable to control its internal temperature. Typically, it's a result of your body temperature rising to 103°F or higher and can become a life-threatening situation.

Evan was taken to the First Aid tent, and they were shocked and immediately dove into action. They put cool cloths around his body to bring his temperature down. Once his temperature started to normalize, he was able to drink some water again to help quicken the cool-down process. The next day, Evan was told that in addition to the Heat Exhaustion and the life-threatening Heat Stroke, he also received 2nd-degree burns, and was lucky he didn't end up in the emergency room.

While Evan's story may be an extreme case, Heat Exhaustion can happen quickly and sneak up on you. And, if untreated, can very easily turn into Heat Stroke. Below, we have included some symptoms and preventative measures to help you stay safe in the upcoming months!

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

  • General Weakness - take a cool shower or use a cold compress to decrease body temperature

  • Increased Heavy Sweating - hydrate with water or sports drinks

  • A Weak but Faster Pulse/Heart-rate - move to a shaded or cool area

  • Nausea/Vomiting - seek medical treatment if vomiting continues

  • Possible Fainting, Lightheadedness, Dizziness - lie down

  • Pale, Cold, or Clammy Skin - remove any extra layers or unnecessary clothing, like shoes or socks

Heat Stroke Symptoms

  • Elevated Body Temperature (Above 104°F/40°C) - call 911 for emergency treatment

  • Rapid and Strong Pulse/Heart-rate - move to a shaded or cool area

  • Loss/Change of Consciousness - circulate air to speed up cooling

  • Hot, Red, Dry, or Moist Skin - use a cold compress or cold, wet cloth to help lower body temperature

Other ways to prevent heat stroke and heat exhaustion include:

  • Stay hydrated - drink two to four cups of water every hour that you’re in the heat or direct sun.

  • Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing when doing activities outside in the heat.

  • Take cooler baths or showers on a hot day to help cool you down.

  • Take frequent breaks when working or exercising in the heat.

When it comes to bracing the heat, Evan summarized it best:

"Be better prepared for outings/working in direct sunlight and hot conditions. Try to find shade wherever you can. If you can’t find any, try and create your own (like an umbrella). Stay hydrated and use sunscreen. Take cool-down breaks and switch up tasks. Wear proper clothing for covering exposed skin. And, recognize the signs of both Heat Exhaustion/Stroke, and what to do for both."


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