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Heat stroke vs. heat exhaustion: Safety tips as high temperatures hit metro Detroit

Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke: Know the signs and how to treat them
Posted at 3:56 PM, Jun 17, 2024

(WXYZ) — With temperatures soaring into the 90s this week, it's crucial to understand the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Both of these are serious heat-related illnesses. 

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are both preventable, yet extreme heat illnesses lead to over 1,200 deaths every year here in the U.S.

Now, both conditions are related but different. Heat exhaustion happens when your body gets too hot and overheats. It can happen if you spend too much time in a hot environment whether indoors or outdoors or if you work or exercise outside in the high heat.

What happens is the body loses a lot of water and salt due to heavy sweating and has trouble cooling itself down. Symptoms include heavy sweating, dizziness, headache, fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea and a weak but rapid pulse.

Now, if heat exhaustion is not treated, it can develop into heat stroke. Heat stroke is a severe and life-threatening emergency. What happens is your body can no longer control its own temperature, and the internal core temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Unfortunately, heat stroke can damage your brain and other vital organs and lead to death if not treated quickly. Symptoms are more intense and include hot, dry skin that doesn’t sweat, profuse sweating, confusion, hallucinations, slurred speech, aggression and potential loss of consciousness.

People at the highest risk are older adults and children under the age of 4, as they have trouble regulating body temperature. Also, people with mental illness and chronic diseases like obesity and cystic fibrosis are at high risk as well.

As for preventative measures, I strongly recommend staying hydrated by drinking extra fluids like sports drinks, lightly salted water or broth. Otherwise, you could become dehydrated, which can lead to heat exhaustion.

Also, limit your time outside, wear sunscreen, lightweight clothing, and a hat, and avoid strenuous activities. If your home doesn’t have adequate air conditioning, there are cooling centers open to the public in many local cities.

If you or anyone experiences heat exhaustion, please move to a cooler place, drink water or sports drinks and rest. Applying cool, wet cloths to the skin or taking a cool shower can also help alleviate symptoms.

If heat stroke is suspected, please call emergency services immediately. Move the person to a cooler environment and use any available methods to cool them down.

Understanding how high heat can affect your body is crucial as we enter the hottest months of the year. Be sure to protect yourself and your loved ones from these dangerous conditions.