Understanding the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion

This summer Washington state has seen exceptionally hot weather conditions. This poses a danger of heat illness to workers who perform outdoor jobs. Two common forms of heat illness are heatstroke and heat exhaustion.

Both heat exhaustion and heatstroke can be serious, but of the two, heatstroke is the more severe. Some first aid measures appropriate for heat exhaustion can be dangerous in a case of heatstroke. Therefore, the ability to recognize the symptoms of each is crucial.

Symptoms of Heat Illnesses

Some symptoms of heatstroke and heat exhaustion are similar. The patient may lose consciousness, become dizzy or nauseated or complain of a headache. A person with heat exhaustion may exhibit skin that is cold or clammy to the touch. Heatstroke can cause the skin to turn red. It may be slightly damp or completely dry because heatstroke can cause a person to stop sweating altogether. The body temperature may go over 103 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, other symptoms characteristic of heatstroke include seizures and confusion.

Treatment of Heat Illnesses

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is appropriate to move a patient with either heatstroke or heat exhaustion to a cooler place out of direct sunlight. It is also appropriate to try to cool the person with a bath of cold water or by applying wet cloths to the skin. A person with heat exhaustion can receive water to sip, but a person with heatstroke should not drink anything.

It may not be necessary to summon medical help for someone with heat exhaustion unless the symptoms last more than an hour. However, heatstroke is a medical emergency requiring immediate aid. When in doubt, it is better to call 911 for someone with heat illness.