Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke — Do you know the difference?

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Do you know the difference between heat exhaustion vs. a heat stroke? Knowing can save a life -- here's an explanation of how the heat index works and the illnesses you can suffer when it's high.

Major heat will be building into the area for the end of the week into the weekend. The hot temperatures, combined with high dew points, will lead to heat indices between 100° – 110° at times. (For a look at the current forecast and when to expect the hottest conditions, CLICK HERE)

The heat index is the same thing as the “feels like” temperature. It is a measure of the perceived temperature on your skin. The main factor contributing to the heat index is the dew point, or a measure of moisture in the air. The dew point is the temperature you have to cool the air to for it to be considered saturated and the higher the number, the greater the moisture content in the air.

The dew point gives you an indication of the humidity. Humidity is the percentage of water vapor an airmass contains. The higher the dew point and the closer the dew point is to the temperature, the higher the humidity. High humidity means the air contains a lot of water vapor, making evaporation more difficult to occur. Think of it as trying to dry up spilled water with a paper towel. A dry paper towel will allow you to wipe up and will hold a lot more water than a paper towel that is already damp.

So, why is this important? The greater moisture content in the air makes the body less effective at cooling itself. Humans cool themselves through sweating. When we perspire, the body is secreting water droplets onto the surface of our skin so the sweat will evaporate. Evaporation is a cooling process.

Here’s the scientific explanation for how it works–if you don’t want to nerd out with me, keep scrolling 🙂
Let’s head back to science class. If you remember from your school days, water can exist in three states: as a solid, a liquid, or a gas. The process of changing the state of water involves a transfer of heat energy. If you take liquid water and evaporate it into a gas, or water vapor, the water has to absorb heat energy. The result is the cooling of the area around where the water exists. So, when you sweat and the sweat evaporates, this cools the skin. (This is why when you step out of a swimming pool or a shower you feel cold)
The opposite occurs when you take water from a gas and condense it into liquid. This process involves releasing the heat that was used to turn it to a gas, known as latent heat. (This is how air conditioners work, by cooling and condensing the air quickly and then taking that latent heat and blowing it out of the home)
There’s also heat exchanges when turning water to ice. To go from a liquid to a solid, or ice, you release more heat energy from the water in it’s liquid state. To go from a solid to a liquid, or melt ice, the ice absorbs heat energy.

When the heat indices are high, it also means the body can’t effectively cool itself. The result on your body is a high threat of suffering from heat exhaustion or worse, heat stroke. These are the symptoms and what you should do if you or someone with you experiences either illness.

Heat Exhaustion
The symptoms of heat exhaustion are as follows:
–Fainting or dizziness
–Excessive sweating
–Cool, pale, clammy skin
–Nausea and/or vomiting
–A rapid but weak pulse
–Muscle cramps

Anyone experiencing these symptoms needs to take action to cool down immediately. You should hydrate right away with water and try to move into an air conditioned space. If an air conditioned space isn’t available, move to a shaded area. You should also apply a cold compress and/or take a cool shower to cool down.

Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a very serious conditions that can lead to permanent injury or death. The symptoms of heat stroke are as follows:
–A major, throbbing headache
–No sweating
–Body temperature at or above 103°
–Red, hot, dry skin
–A rapid and strong, pounding pulse
–Loss of consciousness
If you or anyone you know is experiencing these symptoms, CALL 9-1-1 IMMEDIATELY. A person suffering from heat stroke NEEDS IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION. While waiting for help to arrive, steps should be taken to cool the person down. Apply cold compresses, move them indoors to air conditioning, etc. until help arrives.

–These illnesses don’t just impact people, but animals as well. Pets should be brought indoors during extreme heat. If that isn’t possible, they need shade and they need plenty of fresh, cool water. Ice cubes can also be given to help them stay cool.
–Pets and people should not be left in cars during the high heat as it can be fatal in a matter of minutes. Check the back seat of the vehicle when exiting to prevent tragedies from occurring.
–It’s also a good idea to check on elderly parents, friends, and neighbors. Make sure they have a way to stay cool.
–Lastly, it’s best to save the walks with the pup for the cool parts of the day, either early morning or late evening. Asphalt temperatures can easily reach 150° or higher in the extreme heat. That would be enough to easily burn the pads of your dogs paws.

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