Heat illness is a real concern in the summer, especially in areas with high humidity. It's important to catch heat illness early and correct it before it gets too serious. Two very dangerous conditions related to heat are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. When you recognize heat exhaustion, it's possible to fix it before it progresses to heat stroke. Heat stroke is a life threatening emergency, which requires a call to 911 and transport to the emergency department.
|photo courtesy of Sasha Wolffe CC 2.0|
Here are the differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke:
- Skin: Heat exhaustion leads to excessive sweating and often pale skin. A hallmark of heat stroke is dry, hot, flushed skin.
- Brain: Heat exhaustion is a combination of dehydration, imbalanced electrolytes and elevated temperature. As heat exhaustion progresses, it's common to feel dizzy and lightheaded. In heat stroke, dizziness becomes confusion and eventually coma.
- Muscles: Heat exhaustion saps energy from the body, causing muscles to become weak and maybe experience tremors. As the brain is more affected by elevated temperatures, heat stroke can lead to seizures.
When heat illness begins, it's important to treat it as quickly as possible. Be aggressive and cool the patient as fast as possible:
- If the patient is unconscious or confused, call 911
- Remove clothing
- Move patient out of the heat
- Place ice on armpits, neck and groin (where blood flows close to the surface)
If the patient is able to follow commands and drink fluids on his or her own, then provide water or a sports drink. Fluids should not contain alcohol or caffeine.
About Rod Brouhard:
Rod Brouhard is a paramedic, journalist, educator and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients, and First Aid Guide for About.com. He started as a volunteer firefighter in 1987 and fell in love with emergency medical services. Rod's been viewing life through the flashing glow of emergency lights since 1988, and he doesn't plan to stop anytime soon.