Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke: What to look for, keys to prevention

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – We love it when temperatures warm up here in East Tennessee because you can get out and enjoy all of what East Tennessee has to offer, but it can be dangerous. The CDC says, since 1999, more than 8,000 deaths have been attributed to heat-related illnesses. Some of those were due to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, but do you know the differences? 

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body overheats. It can’t cool itself naturally. Sweating, of course, is what does that because the sweat evaporates off your body. Heat exhaustion is preventable.

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Heat stroke is worse. It is actually the advanced stages of heat exhaustion. It occurs when the body temperature climbs higher than 104 F. It requires immediate medical attention. It can cause someone to fall into a coma or even cause death.

Do you know what to look for?

Dr. Heather Edgley, an East Tennessee Children’s Hospital emergency room physician says, “When you are overheated, you might feel dizzy, fatigued or tired, sleepy or nauseated. You may start to sweat, but eventually, as you get worse and worse, your body has used up all those fluids and you’re going to stop sweating.”

She also says your skin may feel dry and cool to the touch which is really kind of the opposite of what you might expect.  If these symptoms go untreated or get worse, you should immediately seek medical attention.

Hydration is key

Staying hydrated is key to prevention. You should be drinking water, an electrolyte solution or sports drink often. Also, try to limit overexerting yourself outside during the hottest parts of the day. If you have to be out during these times, make sure you are taking frequent breaks in a shaded or air conditioned environment or maybe cooling off in a body of water.

Another important thing to remember is that young kids and the elderly are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Older people are more impacted because they cannot adapt to rapid temperature changes as well as younger adults and prescription medications can affect the body’s ability to regulate the body’s temperature. Children are smaller and weigh less, but because they have a larger relative surface area than adults, their ability to tolerate heat stress is affected. 

(The WATE Storm Team is doing summer weather awareness stories all this week.)

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