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How to Avoid and Treat Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Nancy wants to educate the public about basic facts that may save a life.

Why Do I Need to Know About Heat Illness?

Heat exhaustion and heat strokes are two words that we have all heard of. But do we all know the facts? Anyone can be affected by them. And unfortunately due to our ignorance and even occasionally, a professionals lack of attention, adults and children actually die from heat stress. Please before you spend hours in the sun, please take a quick moment to reread this article to remind yourself how quickly a heat-related illness can occur and adhere to the precautions to prevent it. And more importantly, watch for the warning signs in someone else. Who knows, you just may save a life with a simple bottle of water or a call to 911.

Table of Contents

Did you know that when you faint, the body falls forward instead of backwards? The movies have this medical fact wrong.

Did you know that when you faint, the body falls forward instead of backwards? The movies have this medical fact wrong.

What is Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke?

Heat exhaustion occurs when the bodies core temperature has become too hot. This may be from over exposure to the sun or prolonged periods to extremely hot temperatures. Often during heat exhaustion body temperature will sore to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

The two kinds of heat exhaustion are:

  1. Lack of water necessary to sustain the bodies activities. The signs may be extreme thirstiness, loss of control in muscles and headaches.
  2. Lack of salt to maintain bodily functions. Typical symptoms are nausea and vomiting, muscle cramping and dizziness.

On the other hand, heat stroke is more serious and sometimes fatal. Heat stroke usually happens after heat-related cramps, fainting spells and/or heat exhaustion type symptoms. But one should be warned that it may occur when you do not have any obvious signs of heat exhaustion. Heat stroke can be the result of lengthy exposure to abnormally hot temperatures and is usually connected to dehydration. Dehydration will cause the body's internal temperature control system to fail. Some symptoms may include nausea, seizures, confusion and in severe cases, a loss of consciousness.


Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

If you are planning a day of outdoor activities or a sweaty indoor activity in an environment that does not have air conditioning, you should know the common signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion. These include:

  • If you notice a person walking around dazed and confused, this may be a sign of heat exhaustion. Rather than making fun of the person or snickering at them ask them a question that anyone knows like what year is it. If the response is incorrect, be aware that they may be suffering from heat exhaustion.
  • If you notice that your urine is a dark or florescent yellow, try drinking some fluids.
  • If you start to feel dizzy or notice a person who seems a little off balance.
  • Fainting is a definite and scary sign of heat exhaustion. It is usually a good idea to seek medical attention when fainting occurs, just to be safe.
  • Fatigue may seem normal if you are doing strenuous activity but it is also a sign that the body is overheating.
  • Headache is a serious sign of heat exhaustion and should not be taken lightly. If someone your group complains of headache, please make sure that they are staying hydrated
  • Muscle cramps are a common sign of heat exhaustion. Many athletes mistakenly associate these for old injuries or being poorly conditioned.
  • Nausea while in the sun is something to be concerned with. Don't discard this as a sign of food poisoning.
  • Heat exhaustion can cause the skin to pale.
  • Profuse sweating is a serious sign of heat exhaustion not a good workout.
  • Rapid heartbeat can be a sign of many serious medical problems. But, it is associated with heat exhaustion and you should always seek medical attention.

Heat Stroke Symptoms

Many of the symptoms of heat stroke are similar to that of heat exhaustion but tend to be much more severe. The classic signs and symptoms of heat stroke is fainting, and may be accompanied by all or just one of the following:

  • A throbbing severe headache that affects your ability to function.
  • Dizziness and a feeling light-headed will occur. This is when you may see stars a colors of purple and red like depicted in cartoons.
  • With heat stroke there will be a lack of sweating. In other words, you body has already over heated and has begun to shut down.
  • The skin will appear red but feel hot and dry.
  • There will be severe muscle weakness and cramping that may leave the person incapacitated.
  • The person may be nauseated to the point of vomiting.
  • The heartbeat is rapid and it may be extremely strong or weak.
  • The person has fast respiration but is still gasping for air.
  • The victim has sudden behavior changes like confusion, disorientation, or inability to walk properly.
  • Heat stroke may cause seizures.
  • Heat stroke sometimes causes the person to fall into an unconsciousness state.

Causes of Heat Exhaustion

The heat index is used to determine how hot you feel in relation to relative humidity and air temperature. A relative humidity of 60% or more inhibits sweat evaporation and decreases that body's ability to cool down. The chances suffering the effects of heat exhaustion increases dramatically with the heat stress index. It is very important to pay attention to the heat index to avoid heat exhaustion.

People maybe be more prone to heat exhaustion during a long heat wave especially when the air quality is poor and nights do not provide cooling effects. Other risk factors for heat exhaustion include:

  • The age of the individual, babies and children younger than 4 years of age and older persons over age 65 Infants and children up to age 4, because their bodies adjust to heat less slowly.
  • Many people who have certain health conditions are at risk for heat exhaustion including: heart problems, lung conditions, kidney issues, being overweight or underweight, high blood pressure, diabetes, mental illness, sickle cell anemia, alcoholism, sunburn and any conditions related to a fever.
  • Certain medications like diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, stimulants heart and blood pressure medications, and medications for psychiatric conditions.

Be sure and check with your doctor to see if your individual health condition makes you more at risk for heat exhaustion.

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Causes of Heat Stroke

Heatstroke is caused from either hot surroundings or overexertion. You may be either inside or outside when heatstroke is brought on. Usually it happens after prolonged exposure to unrelenting heat and like heat exhaustion is most likely to occur in older adults and those with chronic illnesses. Heatstroke that is due to overexertion, can occur in anyone that is exercising or working in an hot environment and is more likely to occur in persons who are not accustomed to the hotter conditions.

The main causes of heatstroke are:

  • Wearing clothes that do not allow the body to sweat.
  • Any kind of alcohol because it interferes with the body's natural temperature control system.
  • When the body becomes dehydrated, it is not able to produce the water necessary to maintain normal body functions.

Placing cool ice packs on the back of the neck can cool down the entire body and prevent it from overheating..

How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion

The most obvious solution to preventing heat exhaustion is to stay inside in an air-conditioned environment when the heat index is high. But there will be times when we need to be outside whether it is to work on our house, attend and outdoor festival or party, or we are stuck on the side of the road waiting for the tow truck to arrive. If you are planning a day outside that cannot be avoided, you may prevent most heat exhaustion by the taking the following precautions:

  • Dress appropriately wearing lightweight and loose-fitted clothes. Make sure the clothes are white or light in coloring and allow airflow to your body. A wide-brimmed hat is also suggested.
  • Always apply sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater). If your clothing is light-weight or see-through, you might want to put sunscreen on underneath the clothes.
  • Keep your body well hydrated. Drink more than the normal 8 glasses of water when you are outside. It is suggested to drink electrolyte sports drinks along with water to help with the depletion of salt.
  • If exercising or working outdoors drink an extra 24 ounces of water two hours before the workout or outside activity. Then drink another 8 ounces prior to the activity and eight ounces during the activity for every 20 minutes. You should do this even when you do not feel thirsty.
  • Do not drink fluids containing alcohol or caffeine because they dehydrate you more and increase your chances of getting heat exhaustion.

How to Prevent Heat Stroke

All of the strategies above for preventing heat exhaustion apply to the prevention of heat stroke. But there are additional steps that may be taken for preventing heat stroke. These are especially suggested if you are in a high-risk group for heat stroke:

  • Observe the color of your urine. It should be clear colored. Darker urine is an indication of dehydration. Drinking more fluids will help it.
  • Track your weight before and after you exercise. The weight lost helps you to figure out how much liquid that you should be drinking.
  • Never drink liquids that have caffeine in them. This includes many cola and soda-type drinks.
  • Avoid taking salt tablets when you are in the sun or in a building without air conditioning. Sports drinks and fruit juice help to replace the salt and the lost electrolytes.
  • Follow a physician’s orders before increasing your liquid consumption if you have a seizure disorder, heart, kidney or liver problems, and fluid retention issues.
  • If your place of residence does not have fans or air conditioning, try to spend at least two hours a day in an air conditioned environment. Be sure to close your curtains when the sun is shining in and open the window during the cooler hours.
  • Check in your area for low income program that might assist you with purchasing an air conditioner.

Quick Video on How To Treat Heat Exhaustion

Heat Exhaustion Treatment

Please monitor yourself and others in your group for the symptoms of heat exhaustion especially younger children and the elderly. If you suspect someone is having problems with heat exhaustion, relocate them to the nearest air conditioned room. If this is not possible, get them to a shaded area. Try to administer the following steps:

  • Assist them in drinking liquids. They will probably tell you that they are not thirsty and will be only able to drink small amounts.
  • Help them to remove any constricting clothing.
  • Ideally, help the person to take a cool shower or bath, but if this is not possible sponge the person with cool water.
  • Put ice or cooling pads under the arm pits and in the groin area. If fans are available, use them to cool the person

If the person is not feeling better in 30 minutes or if the condition worsens, take them to the emergency room because they are endanger of heat stroke.

After you have had heat exhaustion, most people are highly sensitive to recurrence. It is best to avoid the hotter temperatures for about a week.

Video on How to treat Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke Treatment

If you think someone is having a heat stroke, call 911 or take them to the emergency room. While you are waiting for the ambulance, start the following first aid for heat stroke:

  • If possible, take the person to a cool shaded area. Air conditioning is the best choice.
  • Remove any constricting clothes.
  • Take the person’s temperature and try cooling the body down. · Fan air toward the person.
  • Wet the skin with cool water.
  • Place ice packs under the person’s arms, in between the legs, and on the neck and back. These are the areas of the body with blood vessels near the skin.
  • Put the person in a cool or ice bath.
  • You can always call 911 for extra directions.

Like heat exhaustion, it is best for heat stroke victims not to expose themselves yourself to higher temperatures for at least 7 days.


My final conclusion is to review the information in this article before planning to spend any amount of time outside. If you are having an outdoor party, it would be wise to invest in some emergency water and ice packs just in case a guest becomes overheated. Planning ahead may just save a life.

Be Especially Vigilant About the Sun in the Southern States


Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on June 21, 2018:

This is so true.

Hashp from india on August 18, 2017:

Very informative article regarding what we call the hyperthermic syndromes.A lot of people fail to recognise them and take remedial preventive and curative action which has serious consequences.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on September 20, 2015:

Thanks I think that it is important to review this information every do often just to remind ourselves of the warning signs so that we can recognize it in everyone.

Dianna Mendez on September 20, 2015:

This is good information to know. The school sports teams could use this to keep students safe when practicing in the summer hear.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on April 02, 2013:

Like I said in the article, it is something that I personally battled with all my life. As a kid I hated playing out doors just because it made me so sick.

Mary Wickison from USA on April 01, 2013:

Hi Lipnancy,

This information should be mandatory for people traveling to a hot country. My daughter became very ill from being outside whilst at PE. This was shortly after her head teacher had given a talk about heat exhaustion. I too, when I was young from being in the back of a car. Luckily my aunt, who was traveling with us, knew the signs and the treatment. I missed out on the whole vacation, in Palm Springs. :-(

Here in Brazil, I take precautions because the sun is so strong and humidity so high. I drink lots of water and if I get a head ache, I know I need to get out of the sun and drink water.

Everyone should learn how to recognize the signs, and know what to do if someone they are with becomes ill.

Thanks for the information. Very thorough.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on February 09, 2013:

@Denise Handlon I am very sensitive to heat exhaustion. My first experience was when I was only 3 years old. As a child, I hated playing outside just because the sun always made me so sick.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on February 07, 2013:

Very useful information here, Nancy. I like how you described the two and explained the differences, and then offered treatment. Very good. UP and U/I I took the poll-I had heat exhaustion one summer. It seemed to come on so suddenly and totally did not expect it. Not fun!

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on February 03, 2013:

@Olde Cashmere I am very sensitive to the sun also.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on February 03, 2013:

@unknown spy Thanks. Much appreciated.

Olde Cashmere on February 03, 2013:

This is excellent advice to help avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke Lipnancy. I experienced heat exhaustion a couple of times when I used to have to walk to and home from work. Voting this up and rating useful and interesting.

DragonBallSuper on February 03, 2013:

just sharing..

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on February 02, 2013:

@MomsTreasureChest Thanks for stopping by.

MomsTreasureChest on February 02, 2013:

Great hub with lots of useful tips, thanks for sharing!

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on February 01, 2013:

@ignugent My intention is for people to use it as a reminder.

ignugent17 on January 31, 2013:

This is very useful and I think I will read it again to prepare for summer time.

Voted up and useful! :-)

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on January 24, 2013:

@Ruchira Thanks for stopping by.

Ruchira from United States on January 24, 2013:

This is such a thorough hub, lipnancy.

Gotta look forward to summer now ;)

voted up as useful and interesting.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on January 24, 2013:

@LadyWolfs So glad that you enjoyed.

Lady Wolfs on January 23, 2013:

Nice hub. You did such a great job on providing information for a very important topic. Especially, for the southern states. Very informative and useful for people everywhere. Thank you for sharing.

Voted up and useful!

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on January 18, 2013:

@DDE Yes I wish every person had air conditioning but they do not.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 18, 2013:

In such situations it is the safest to remain in cool places. However you have mentioned the most helpful points for the uncontrollable heat.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on January 15, 2013:

@midget38 Thanks, I hope that it really helps someone someday.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on January 15, 2013:

@unknown spy I am good my friend. Thanks for sharing.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on January 15, 2013:

Coming in again to say I need this hub now because the hot weather season is coming!

DragonBallSuper on January 15, 2013:

hi are you?

sharing this.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on January 12, 2013:

@midget38 Thanks for stopping by.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on January 11, 2013:

Coming in again to say I will share this as a reminder about the effects of heatstroke!

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on December 23, 2012:

@midget38 Wonderful, I wish that I could say that about my part of the world.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on December 23, 2012:

@unknown spy Hope you can use it some day.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on December 23, 2012:

@suzzycue Probably not. Not much else to say. But that is a good suggestion.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on December 23, 2012:

This hub is useful for me, because I live in Singapore where it is summer all year! Thanks for sharing, Nancy, and I must say this is very detailed, well-organized and very, very useful.

DragonBallSuper on December 23, 2012:

thank you so much for this helpful info!

Susan Britton from Ontario, Canada on December 22, 2012:

Great hub Lipnancy. Boy did you ever cover this topic and I really like how you indexed the different parts of your hub. Are you going to use the indexes to write more on this subject, I hope?

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on December 22, 2012:

Thanks Carol7777 You positive feedback means a lot to me.

carol stanley from Arizona on December 22, 2012:

I have experience this some fluid in before it became serious. Lots of good information here and people need to know about this.

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on December 21, 2012:

@kj force So glad you enjoyed and yes the Florida sun is much more potent than it is in the Northern States.

kjforce from Florida on December 21, 2012:

Lipnancy...Very informative hub..especially for people who visit the southern states, and of course Florida ( not considered a southern state..(whatever)..visitors from up north sometimes do not realize the heat is different here, regardless if winter or summer..and you can be a french fry in just a few hours..thanks for sharing and bringing to the attention..not only does the heat deplete the water, but the minerals as well...Happy Holidays to you..

Nancy Yager (author) from Hamburg, New York on December 20, 2012:

@billybuc. Yes I suppose this isn't the best time of year for this hub. But many parts of the world are having summer right now.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 20, 2012:

Very useful information! This is one thing we in the Pacific Northwest don't have to worry about. :)

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