The two most common heat related illnesses are heat strokes and heat exhaustion. They are related in that they are caused by too much heat but they have significant differences. Knowing the differences between the two is important as it will help you identify them easily from their symptoms and take the best measures to counter the problems. So, what are heat strokes and exhaustion and what causes them?
Well heat strokes are as a result of extended periods of heat exhaustion. Some forms of heat strokes might however be much more serious than heat exhaustion and can lead to serious complications in the body. Heat exhaustion is caused by the inability of the body to cool itself on time when the temperatures are very high. As we all know, sweating is the natural mechanism of the body to cool down when the temperatures get too high. When the body is unable to produce enough sweat to cool your body down, then heat exhaustion sets in. When we work in extremely hot conditions and do strenuous activities, the body might have difficulties producing sweat. Heat exhaustion can also be caused by lack of enough hydration. Water is essential in cooling down the body and is the main component found in sweat. Lack of enough water in the system therefore, can result in insufficient sweat to cool the body. Wearing heavy and tight clothing can also contribute to heat exhaustion because of lack of aeration and therefore reduced sweating. Heat exhaustion in itself is not as dangerous but when left for too long, it leads to the development of heat strokes which are far more dangerous.
So, how do I know whether I am suffering from mere heat exhaustion or a more dangerous heat stroke? Here are the main differences in the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat strokes;
Heat exhaustion symptoms
Heat exhaustion is characterized by general body weakness and fatigue. Because the body is unable to cool down properly, muscle activity is reduced and this yields into fatigue.
There is profuse sweating. The body attempts to counter the heat levels by producing as much sweat as possible but cannot quite offset it. There will be increased sweating but the body temperature will not quite change.
Nausea and vomiting might set in as well. Some people especially children will faint when the heat exhaustion becomes too much for their bodies to bear.
The skin turns pale and will be extremely cold.
Heat stroke symptoms
The body temperatures will soar to incredibly high levels. Anything above 100 degrees Fahrenheit should be indicative of a heat stroke and urgent medical care should be sought.
The heart rate will increase as the body attempts to circulate blood to all the organs. There will be a strong pulse and rapid than usual. This is a dangerous sign and medical care is urgently needed at this point.
When the temperatures get too high, then the skin becomes red and dry which is very painful. It almost feels like you are burning.
Diagnosis of heat exhaustion and heat strokes
A blood test may be used to check your sodium or potassium levels to help determine if you are dehydrated. If you are dehydrated, then you will be given IV drips to help hydrate the body and offset the high temperatures and the inability of the body to produce enough sweat. A sample of your urine may be taken. Dark yellow urine may be a sign of dehydration. IV drips will then be used to get your body hydrated. Muscle function tests may be performed. These tests are supposed to ascertain whether there is any form of muscle malfunction resulting from too much sweating. X-rays and other imaging tests can be used to determine if you have any internal organ damage. This is normally the last resort and is used when the heat strokes are life threatening.
If you begin experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, try to find a cooler location if possible. You should also stop whatever physical activity you are engaging in and lie down to allow your body to cool down.
The best thing however, is to contact an emergency room and get urgent medical care. Staying too long in conditions that trigger heat exhaustion and heat strokes is dangerous. It starts with organ failure and within no time death becomes imminent. Dial 911 if you are in any danger and try to stay as cool as possible while you wait for help to arrive. Never lock babies in cars or overdress them especially during the hot weather because you are exposing them to the two conditions. There are about 5,000 deaths each year resulting from heat strokes and this should come as a warning sign to you. Dial 911 and get help as soon as possible.