“Summer bachelors, like summer breezes, are never as cool as they pretend to be.” This humorous Nora Ephron quote has a bit of truth to it. In the warmest months of summer, a little bit of breeze isn’t enough to help you beat the heat. If you spend a lot of time in warm temperatures, you might want to know the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion — before you learn it the hard way.
The Difference Between Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion
If you’re a fan of summer fun, you’ve probably overdone it once or twice. Everyone’s stayed at the beach long enough to get a sunburn, or had a little too much fun at a summer barbeque. While spending too much time in the heat may lead to a little discomfort, it rarely rises to the level of a real medical issue.
However, too much heat is genuinely bad for your health. Seniors in particular are vulnerable to heat stress. Aging changes our bodies to make them more vulnerable to heat, and less adept at handling intense temperature changes. Because of this, it’s important for seniors to know what heat stress looks and feels like, including the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Heat Stress, Heat Stroke, and Heat Exhaustion
Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to cool itself to a comfortable temperature. It can develop very quickly, especially during heat waves. Tell-tale signs of heat stress include cramping, intense thirst, and physical exhaustion. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should stop what you are doing, relocate to somewhere cooler, and hydrate.
However, since heat stress can develop quickly, it is good to know the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion. While heat exhaustion is uncomfortable, it is also a condition that most people can resolve on their own. Heat stroke is a different situation, and it requires medical intervention. So how do you know which you are experiencing?
Heat exhaustion is what happens when your body experiences heat stress for an extended period of time. Sufferers of heat exhaustion experience the following symptoms:
- Excessive sweating
- Dizziness, headaches, or confusion
- Nausea or other stomach issues
- Physical weakness or unusual exhaustion
- Pale, moist skin
- Slow, shallow breathing
If you notice these symptoms, it is essential to immediately lower your internal temperature. Find a cool place to relax, and drink plenty of water. As long as you hydrate and rest, you will recover quickly.
Unfortunately, if you don’t stop to cool down when you realize you’re experiencing heat exhaustion, it can quickly develop into a heat stroke. When the body’s temperature rises too rapidly to control, the body will lose its ability to sweat. When this happens, you might experience a heat stroke. The symptoms of heat stroke are much more severe than heat exhaustion:
- Not sweating, despite feeling extreme heat
- Red, hot, dry skin
- A recorded temperature of over 103 degrees Fahrenheit
- A throbbing headache, extreme nausea, or loss of consciousness
Unlike heat exhaustion, you need to seek medical attention immediately if you suspect you are having a heat stroke. The damage a heat stroke can cause to your body can be devastating, permanent, and may even result in death. A doctor will provide interventions such as an ice bath or IV hydration that can bring your temperature down quickly and safely. If you think you’re experiencing a heat stroke, don’t hesitate to call 911!
Heat exhaustion and heat strokes can ruin your summer fun fast. However, there’s no reason to fear the heat if you’re prepared to handle it. Just drink lots of water, cool down when you need to, and follow common-sense sun safety tips while you’re outside.
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