Our world is heating up. More of our planet will endure hotter temperatures for longer periods every year. The risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke goes up with the rising temperatures. It’s more important than ever to know how to keep cool.
First, let’s look at the differences between two common heat-related conditions: heat exhaustion vs heat stroke.
What is heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is what happens when the body loses too much water and salt. It is most likely to affect the elderly, people with high blood pressure, or those who work in hot environments like factories. 1 If body temperature can be cooled down within 30 minutes, medical attention is usually not needed. 2
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Elevated body temperature
- Heavy sweating
- Decreased urine output 1
What is a heat stroke?
Heat stroke is the body’s most extreme and serious reaction to heat stress. A person with heat stroke can no longer regulate their body temperature so it rises rapidly and they cannot sweat to cool down. If not treated quickly, heat stroke can be fatal.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Slurred speech
- Altered mental state
- Loss of consciousness
- Seizures 1
If you think someone is experiencing heat stroke, you should:
- Call emergency services immediately.
- Move the person to a cool, shaded place.
- Remove all unnecessary clothing.
- If possible, put the person into a cool bath.
- If a bath is not possible, wet their skin and clothes and/or place wet clothes on their skin.
- Turn on a fan or find a way to keep air circulating. 1
Heat stroke requires medical attention but these steps may help until a healthcare professional can take over treatment. Heat exhaustion can usually be treated with first aid.
How to prevent heat stress?
To prevent experiencing the effects of heat stress, it’s important to know how to stay cool in hot weather. A few simple best practices can help keep you and your community safe.
- Wear light, loose clothing that protects your skin from the sun.
- Wear sunscreen and reapply regularly.
- Limit exercise and other outdoor activities to the coolest hours of the day.
- If you have to exercise, pace yourself and stop if you begin to feel weak.
- Avoid excess alcohol and caffeine.
- Drink more water than usual even if you’re not thirsty.
- Avoid hot, heavy meals.
- Never leave children or pets in your car.
- Take cool showers or baths.
- Stay inside air-conditioned spaces where possible. Public spaces like libraries or shopping malls can be good places to stay cool, even for a few hours.
- Try to keep your windows, doors, and curtains closed during the hottest hours. 3
Heat waves affect everyone and staying heat-aware is a community effort. Check on your friends and neighbors regularly, particularly if they’re elderly, live alone, are currently unhoused, or live in a low-income household.
These simple preventative measures can help you and those around you avoid heat-related conditions. Stay cool out there.
Take care of yourself,