Heat Stroke vs. Heat Exhaustion
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Health and Wellness

Heat Stroke vs. Heat Exhaustion

Knowing the difference could save your life

Heat Stroke vs. Heat Exhaustion

There is one word to describe the South in the summer and that word is HOT!! When it is this ridiculously hot outside it's important to know the difference between “Heat exhaustion” and “Heat Stroke”. This month I have learned first hand about both. Heat stroke/exhaustion just isn’t getting hot and sweaty it is when your body has been adversely affected by the heat and it is not something to take lightly.

So what is the difference between Heat Stroke and Exhaustion?

Heat Stroke:

Let me preface this with, I should have gone to the ER but we were out of town and well I hate hospitals. My girls and I were on our way to Atlanta, Georgia and it was about 3 in the afternoon we had been making amazing time when all the sudden over the next hill traffic stopped. I thought, "Okay. It's Atlanta, traffic is usually a nightmare but it eventually moves." It was the hottest part of the day and the air conditioner wasn’t working. Well, it just anemically blew out this hot air. The traffic eventually did move, barely, and we made it a whopping three miles in three hours.

The sun was absolutely brutal and to prove I am not exaggerating the picture below is my left leg and the lines are my shorts and where my leg hit the door. The sun was intense.

The first hour was okay we were all sweating but we had drinks and each other so we made the best of it. The second hour my face had turned red and I was no longer sweating (that should have been a huge warning sign). By the third hour, I was in tears about ready to flag a cop down. I used the ice from my long melted drink to try and bring my body temperature down. My arms were now red and extremely hot to the touch. My child next to me started rubbing ice every where they could reach. Once the traffic got moving it was about 3 minutes before we got to our first exit. I got off and went to the gas station and bought a super cold drink. By that time my words were slurring and on top of it all, I was getting a headache.

Here is the link to what closed a highway in Atlanta down for three hours. It is actually kind of funny now that we made it through okay.


I was going to pull over into a hotel but the place we found ourselves in was not a good part of town so I poured water on my body and then wet a paper towel and put it behind my neck and we got back on the now moving interstate. The whole time we were driving I was crying thinking how I could push my body more to get to our hotel across town. The ice bath continued and I was given another water bottle that I drank some and poured the rest over my too hot body.

I know what you are thinking I am insane and I should never have driven like that. You are right but I had children with me and we needed to be in a safe place so we pushed on. We got to our hotel, I came into the room and laid on the bed and used up another dozen or so ice cubes until my skin was no longer on fire and then I took Advil and went to sleep.

According to Mayo hospitals web page, the symptoms of heat stroke are:

  • High body temperature. A body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher 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 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.

The website said of you think someone is having a heat stroke you should call 911 immediately. (I promise my doctor let me know how much of an idiot move driving in Atlanta was)

If you suspect someone of having Heat Stroke you should do the following, according to Mayo.

Take immediate action to cool the overheated person while waiting for emergency treatment.

  • Get the person into the 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.

I got lucky there was no lasting damage but going through the ordeal left me with some sound ideas for our next road trip. Next trip should definitely include water bottles and a crush ice pack in our first aid supplies.

My experience with heat exhaustion happened a month later when my car broke down and I was sitting in the hot sun at a strip mall for 3 hours while I waited for the tow truck to come get the car. It was a little later in the day so the sun was starting to set. I was sweating buckets and light headed.

Heat exhaustion is your bodies way of warning you to get cool before you get hurt.

The signs were easily recognized and I was able to cool down before things escalated.

You can read the full description of heat exhaustion at


Both heat exhaustion and stroke are very serious and if you find yourself in this position be sure to seek proper care.

I would say, "hold on fall is coming" but here in the south it just means about 5 degrees cooler and a sea breeze if we are lucky.

Enjoying outside activities all year round is one of the benefits of living in the south but with warm weather comes the possibility of getting too hot. Drink lots of water, stay cool, wear a hat do what you have to do to stay cool. Most importantly listen to your body it will tell you when you are getting to warm and dont be afraid to seek help its better to seek help then do lasting damage to your body.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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