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HOW TO graphic.jpg

tell the difference
between heat stroke
& heat exhaustion

Summer has arrived full-blast, and we’ve already had several 90°+ days. So now’s a good time to look at the differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Once we familiarize ourselves with these differences, we’ll be able to spring into action if we come across someone who needs help.


Heat exhaustion isn’t as serious as heat stroke, but it can still be scary to deal with. There are two types of heat exhaustion: water depletion, where the person can be super-thirsty and weak. He or she might have a bad headache and can even pass out. The other type, salt depletion, can result in the person becoming nauseous and dizzy, with frequent muscle cramps. Even though he or she might be sweating, their skin could be cold and clammy. If heat exhaustion isn’t dealt with quickly it can progress to heat stroke, which is even worse.


Anyone suffering from heat exhaustion should be allowed to rest somewhere cool or in the shade. They should have any tight, uncomfortable clothing removed and they should be given something to drink (not alcohol or caffeine). Use fans and towels wrung out in ice water to further cool the person. If none of these methods don’t work within a half hour, get the person to the nearest emergency room.


Heat stroke can have the following symptoms: a high body temperature (104° or even higher); hot, dry skin (the person’s skin has already gone through the cold and clammy stage); no longer sweating; weak and vomiting; rapid, shallow breathing with an increased heart rate; and headache and confusion. As you can see by these symptoms, anyone with these symptoms is in real trouble—in addition, he or she might be incoherent and might even lose consciousness.


If you think someone is experiencing heat stroke, don’t waste time—call 911 immediately! People can die from heat stroke. While waiting for help to arrive, remove the person’s clothing if it’s too tight. Move him or her into the shade or into an air-conditioned room. Place ice packs or towels dipped in ice water around the neck, under the armpits, around the forehead, and in the groin area. If you’re not in an air-conditioned room, mist the person and turn on a fan.


Certain people are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. The bodies of infants/toddlers up to age 4 and people over age 65 can’t adjust to heat as easily as other folks, so precautions should be taken. Babies in strollers should be protected from direct sun on hot days and older adults should wear wide-brimmed hats or carry umbrellas (or parasols). Diabetics should be careful and people who take medication for high blood pressure should take precautions as well. Try to get all of your business taken care of in the morning, before the temperatures hit their peak (mid-afternoon).


Here are a few hints on beating the heat:


  • This works on hot and dry, not humid, days: If you’re trying your best not to run your air-conditioning, hang a damp sheet or towel in an open window. The incoming breezes will pass through the fabric and cool the air entering your home. (Be sure to check the fabric periodically to make sure it doesn’t dry out.)

  • Use this same concept with indoor fans: Let the air blow over a shallow bowl of ice. You’ll definitely feel cooler.

  • Keep your sun-facing blinds and curtains closed on hot days. You can actually reduce the amount of heat entering your home by 45 percent!  


  • When you head outside, place a damp hand towel around your neck to keep you cool. Refresh yourself by periodically wiping your face with the towel.


  • Guys: Removing your shirt doesn’t really cool you off; you only end up baking your skin. Try wearing a loose cotton shirt that can release sweat but trap cooler air between your shirt and the hot outdoor air.


  • Trying to sleep on a hot night can be challenging, especially if you’d rather not run the AC or fans. Sprinkle a little water on your top sheet to cool you off.


  • Avoid heavy meals, which can really weigh you down when it’s hot. Substitute quick-to-digest tuna, chicken, and fish for beef, and increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.

  • Stay hydrated and drink lots of water. You can actually get dehydrated if you drink beverages with alcohol, caffeine, or lots of sugar. Try cooling off with a cup of hot tea, like they do in India and Brazil.

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