Summer is a season best spent outdoors, and many people anxiously await their opportunity to soak up some sun in the warm, summer air. But the summer heat can be relentless, posing a potentially significant threat to those who aren't careful when the dog days of summer arrive.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two of the biggest concerns for those spending time under the summer sun. Differentiating between the two and understanding the causes and symptoms of each can help revelers survive the summer heat.
What is heat exhaustion?
Those who work or exercise in humid or hot conditions might have experienced some level of heat exhaustion. When a person is suffering from heat exhaustion, their body is losing its fluids through sweat, and that loss causes dehydration. The body will also overheat, with its temperature rising as high 104 F.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke can be life-threatening. When a person is experiencing heat stroke, his or her body's cooling system stops working, and the body's temperature can rise to 105 F or higher. The cooling system is controlled by the brain, so heat stroke can even damage the brain and/or additional internal organs.
What causes heat exhaustion?
Many people who suffer from heat exhaustion are not used to exercising or working in hot or humid environments, an unfamiliarity that makes them susceptible to heat exhaustion. Gardeners, for example, might be able to work in the garden in late spring and feel no ill effects. However, once summer arrives with its humidity and higher temperatures, those same gardeners are not accustomed to such conditions and might develop heat exhaustion as a result. Especially humid days make it difficult for the body to properly evaporate sweat, and the body will lose fluids and electrolytes. As this is happening, people who do not adequately replace those lost fluids are more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion.
What causes heat stroke?
Unlike heat exhaustion, which is largely caused by external conditions, heat stroke can result from an existing medical condition or medications. People with certain conditions or on medications that hinder the body's ability to sweat may be predisposed to heat stroke because their cooling mechanisms are already impaired or compromised. But heat stroke can also be caused by anyone exerting themselves in a hot environment, even if those people do not have a preexisting medical condition.
What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion symptoms vary but can include:
- sweating profusely
- feelings of dizziness
- muscle cramps or pains
- dark-colored urine (dehydration)
- pale skin
- rapid heartbeat
What are the symptoms of heat stroke?
A body temperature of 105 F or above is a telltale indicator of heat stroke, but additional symptoms may include:
- throbbing headache
- flushed, hot and dry skin
- slightly elevated blood pressure
- dizziness and light-headedness
- nausea and vomiting
- rapid, shallow breathing
- lack of sweating despite the heat
- rapid heartbeat that is strong or weak
What do I do if I suspect I am suffering from heat exhaustion?
If heat exhaustion is suspected, get out of the heat immediately, ideally into an air-conditioned room but under a tree in the shade if that's the only option. Call a doctor if you cannot keep fluids down or if you seem incoherent.
Those who can keep fluids down should drink plenty of noncaffeinated and nonalcoholic beverages, and remove any tight or unnecessary clothing. In addition, take a cool shower or bath, but ideally only do so if someone is around to monitor you.
What should I do if I suspect I am suffering from heat stroke?
Heat stroke is potentially life-threatening, so immediately dial 911 if you feel you have heat stroke. If you suspect someone else has heat stroke, administer some first aid while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Move the person to an air-conditioned room, and try to get his or her body temperature down to a more manageable 101 F or 102 F. Wet the person's skin and apply ice packs to the armpits, groin, neck, and back, as these areas have an abundance of blood vessels close to the skin, and cooling them can help lower body temperature.