Heat exhaustion vs heat stroke. What’s the difference?


Sun stroke. Heat exhaustion. Heat stress. Heat stroke. We hear these terms all the time. But what do they all mean and how harmful are they?


Sun stroke, heat stress and heat exhaustion are all common terms for the milder form of conditions caused by excessive or prolonged exposure to heat. They are bad but not necessarily fatal. Heat stroke is the most extreme form and needs to be handled quickly and properly or it can fatal. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke if not properly treated early when the symptoms first arise.


Some of the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

· Muscle cramps

· Body temperature over 39° C

· Pale, cool, clammy skin

· A weak, rapid pulse

· Headache, often severe

· Nausea and/or vomiting

· Dizzy spills

· Exhaustion and general weakness


If heat exhaustion is not treated quickly and early, then it can progress to heat stroke, particularly if the person remains out in the heat and does not rehydrate.


With heatstroke, the person’s skin may become dry due to the person no longer sweating. (The body is desperately trying to retain what little moisture it still has left.) Their mental condition will worsen. They may start staggering around, appear very confused, then collapse and go unconscious.


Some of the warning signs of heatstroke include:

· Extremely high body temperature (40° and beyond)

· Hot, dry, red skin with no sweating

· A rapid pulse

· Dry, swollen tongue

· A severe throbbing headache

· Dizziness, confusion, severe nausea


If someone develops these symptoms, IMMEDIATELY dial 000 for an ambulance.


Get the person out of the sun quickly and lay them down in a cool, shaded or air-conditioned area. This might seem incorrect but DO NOT GIVE FLUIDS OR WATER. Instead remove excess clothing and wet their skin with water or wrap them in wet cloths. Fan them continually. Wrapped ice packs can also help.


If unconscious place them on their side in the recovery position and make sure their airway is clear. Keep cooling them down until their body temperature drops to 38° then reduce cooling actions.

Standby, ready to give further help or CPR if necessary, while you wait for the ambulance.