Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke: Know The Signs

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke: Know The Signs

Too much sun? Feeling Faint? Dehydrated? How do I know if I'm at serious risk?

There are basically three heat-related syndromes - heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  Heat cramps are the mildest form, with heat stroke being the most severe.

Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity, and strenuous physical activity

Your body's heat combined with environmental heat results in what's called your core temperature — your body's internal temperature. You need to regulate the heat gain to maintain a core temperature. Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition. Yeah, you heard that right.

In hot weather, your body cools itself mainly by sweating. The evaporation of your sweat regulates your body temperature. However, when you overexert yourself in hot, humid weather, your body is less able to cool itself efficiently.

As a result, your body may develop heat cramps, the mildest form of heat-related illness. Signs and symptoms of heat cramps usually include heavy sweating, fatigue, thirst and muscle cramps. Relax - prompt treatment usually prevents heat cramps from progressing to heat exhaustion.

You usually can treat heat cramps by drinking fluids or sports drinks containing electrolytes, getting into cooler temperatures, and resting. Also, be aware that these cramps may occur long after the exertion. Just chill.



  • Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
  • Heavy sweating
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Nausea

Should you be experiencing some or all of these symptoms, the treatment is pretty straight forward - stop your activity and rest, move to a cooler place, and drink plenty of liquids.

Untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition that occurs when your core body temperature reaches 104 F (40 C) or higher.


Children under 4 and adults over 65, as well as obese adults. Really anyone who’s body may have difficulty regulating its core temperature, or those not accustomed to severe heat exposure.

WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?                        

  • Sudden temperature changes. If you're not used to the heat, you're more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Traveling to a warm climate from a cold one can put you at risk of a heat-related illness because your body hasn't had a chance to get used to the higher temperatures.
  • A high heat index. The heat index considers how both the outdoor temperature and humidity affect you. When the humidity is high, your sweat can't evaporate as easily so it’s harder for your body to cool itself. When the heat index is 91 F (33 C) or higher, you should take extra precautions.
  • Certain drugs. Medications that affect your body's ability to stay hydrated include those used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems (beta blockers, diuretics), reduce allergy symptoms (antihistamines), calm you (tranquilizers). Additionally, some illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, can increase your core temperature. 


  • Wear loose fitting, lightweight clothing. Wearing clothing that fits tightly won't allow your body to cool properly. Utilize fabrics that wick away perspiration or provide venting of your body heat. Sun shirts are a perfect solution, such as this: https://www.windrider.com/collections/sun-gear/products/helios-fishing-shirt 
  • Sun shirts that feature long sleeves eliminate the need for sunblock yet offer full protection and comfort. Add a hat and a neck gaiter, and you're fully covered.
  • Protect against the sun. Sunburn affects your body's ability to cool itself, so protect yourself outdoors with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature.
  • Slow down during the hottest parts of the day. If you can't avoid strenuous activity in hot weather, drink fluids and rest frequently in a cool spot. Otherwise play it safe during the worst heat.
  • Get acclimated. Limit time spent working or exercising in heat until you're conditioned to it. People who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness. Become conditioned before exerting.
  • Be cautious if you're at risk. If you take medications or have a condition that increases your risk of heat-related problems, avoid the heat and act quickly if you notice symptoms of overheating.


Heatstroke requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent damage to your brain and other vital organs that can result in death. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed.


  • High body temperature. A core body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher, obtained with a rectal thermometer, is the main sign of heatstroke.
  • Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
  • Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel dry or slightly moist.
  • Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
  • Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
  • Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
  • Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
  • Headache. Your head may throb.


Home treatment isn't enough for heatstroke. If you have symptoms of heatstroke, seek emergency medical help. Others should take steps to cool you off while waiting for emergency help to arrive. Don't drink any fluids while waiting for medical assistance. In the mean time:

  • Get into shade or indoors.
  • Remove excess clothing.
  • Cool the person with whatever means available — put in a cool tub of water or a cool shower, spray with a garden hose, sponge with cool water, fan while misting with cool water, or place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the person's head, neck, armpits and groin.

Heatstroke treatment is focused on cooling your body to a normal temperature to prevent or reduce damage to your brain and vital organs. This condition is serious and should not be taken lightly.

So if you or someone you are with is exhibiting these signs - don't risk it. Take serious action to avoid serious distress. You'll never regret taking precautions.

So while you’re out enjoying the outdoors, remember to pay close attention to overexerting yourself, and be mindful of all these factors in avoiding and treating heat-related illness.    -WR
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