Signs of heat illness: Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke

Published: Jul. 25, 2023 at 3:04 PM CDT
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QUAD CITIES, Iowa/Ill. (KWQC) - When thinking of summer, we typically don’t think of it being a time of illness. However, with the hot temperatures we are experiencing, heat illness such as heat exhaustion and even heat stroke can be a concern.

FIRST ALERT DAY Wednesday through Friday for excessive heat

This time of year, we typically see more humid conditions due to the corn crop reaching its maturity in eastern Iowa and western Illinois.

While the “corn sweat” may not be as bad due to recent drought conditions, Dr. W. Larry Kenney, a trained environmental physiologist and biophysicist said there is still concern when high humidity is factored in with hot temperatures.

“Humid heat is particularly dangerous because the primary means by which humans get rid of body heat that’s built up is by evaporation of sweat. And in very humid environments, if there are more water droplets, water vapor in the air, then the sweat on the skin, that sweat can’t evaporate. So, the more humid it is, the less of the sweat that we produce evaporates, and the less powerful cooling mechanism we have at our disposal,” said Dr. Kenney.

It’s important to understand how your body responds to heat stress.

“The other arm of the way we cope with increased body temperature is unique to humans. And that is that we pump a lot of blood flow to the skin. So, under resting conditions, we may pump as much blood flow to the skin as we pump to the entire rest of the body, depending on the heat stress involved. And so, as we pump more and more blood flow to the skin, to dissipate it to the environment, the heart has to work harder and heart rate increases. And in some cases, in some vulnerable populations, that can put a great strain on the heart,” said Dr. Kenney.

The strain on the heart could lead to a medical emergency.

It’s crucial to understand the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Signs of heat exhaustion include feeling faint or dizzy, excessive sweating, having cool, pale, clammy skin. A rapid, weak pulse or muscle cramps can also be present.

Signs of heat stroke are more serious and include a throbbing headache, no sweating, red, hot, dry skin, a rapid pulse, all of which may lead to a loss of consciousness.

In a heat stroke situation, call 9-1-1 immediately.

If you think you are experiencing heat exhaustion, get to a cool, air conditioned place. Drink plenty of water and take a cool shower or use cold compress.

The bottom line: don’t push yourself during this stretch of summer heat.