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Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke - What to Know

Warmer temperatures often mean more time spent outdoors and more activity. Getting too warm can lead to heat illness. Here’s what you should know to avoid heat-related illness.

What is Heat-Related Illness?

Heat-related illness can occur when you’ve been exposed to extremely hot temperatures for too long. Heat rash, sunburn, and heat cramps are all examples of heat-related illness.

"Heat stroke is considered the most severe of all the heat illnesses,” says Kevin Rahner, DO, physician at McFarland Urgent Care in Ames. “Prior to heat stroke, some people can experience what's called heat exhaustion.”

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

Some of the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are…

  • Extreme thirst
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Core body temperature between 101 and 104

Additional Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat-related illness. In addition to the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion listed above, these additional symptoms may be a sign of heat stroke:

  • Mental status changes or confusion
  • Core body temperature of 105 or higher

Complications of Heat Stroke

If left untreated, heat stroke can lead to...

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Organ failure,
  • Death

Who is Most Vulnerable to Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke?

Anybody can be at risk for any type of heat-related illness, but these individuals can be at higher risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke:

  • Children and infants
  • Elderly individuals
  • People who work outside during the heat of the day
  • Athletes who are out during the day

Individuals who are left in hot cars are also at high risk for heat-related illness and death. Children, the elderly, and pets are especially at risk as they are often unable to let themselves out of a car.

How to Avoid Heat-Related Illness

Some of the most effective ways to avoid heat-related illness include…

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Wear a hat
  • Wear sunscreen, at least SPF 30 or above

Dr. Rahner also recommends avoiding the outdoors on an extremely hot day.

“If you're going to be outside, try to avoid the hottest times of the day, which would be around 10 o'clock and 3 o'clock,” Dr. Rahner says. “And if you're outside, at least try to stay in the shade.”

Treatment of Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke

Individuals who experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke should seek medical treatment as quickly as possible by calling 911 or presenting at the nearest emergency room.

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