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Don’t melt this summer – The difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke!

Traffic cone that is lying flat because it appear to have been melted.

There’s no doubt about it that we still have quite a bit of warm weather left before summer comes to an end. With that being said, it’s important to stay hydrated and stay cool…especially if you are working (or playing) outside.

So, let’s talk about Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke; Both of these conditions are considered heat emergencies. So, what are the symptoms and how do we treat these first aid heat emergencies?

Heat Exhaustion

Occurs when internal temperature starts to rise due to dehydration. If not treated quickly, Heat Exhaustion can lead to Heat Stroke.

Illustration of a man experiencing heat exhaustion. Man is sitting under a tree, appears concerned, his face is read, he is visibly sweating, an drinking a bottle of water. His shoes and a helmet have been removed and are sitting on the ground next to him.


  • Heavy sweating
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Pale or cool skin

First Aid Steps

  • Move the person to a cooler place
  • Have the person lay down or sit down
  • Loosen/remove sweaty clothing
  • Elevate feet 6-12 inches
  • Spray the person down with a spray mist water bottle or sponge body with a wet cloth
  • If the person can sit up and swallow, give the person something to drink – either a sports drink to restore electrolytes or water

Heat Stroke

Occurs when the body’s internal cooling system shuts down due to extreme over-heating. Heat Stroke is a life-threatening condition and must be treated quickly to avoid possible brain damage or death.

Illustration of a man experiencing a heat stroke while his friend fans him. The ill man is unconscious. His long-sleeve shirt has been removed, his legs are elevated with a rolled up towel, and he is under a tree.  An ambulance can be seen in the background driving toward the two men.


  • Skin is very warm or hot to the touch
  • Skin can be red and completely dry – sweating has stopped
  • Confusion and trouble communicating
  • Seizures can occur or person can be unresponsive

First Aid Steps

  • Call 9-1-1 immediately
  • Begin immediate cooling
  • Immerse person up to their chin in cold water in a bathtub or pool
  • If you cannot immerse, pour cold water all over the person and fan him/her
  • Apply cold packs to the neck, groin, and armpit areas
  • Cover the person with a cold, wet sheet and continue fanning
  • Keep cooling the person until EMS arrives

What is the biggest difference between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke?

Heat Exhaustion – Person is sweating heavily because his/her body is still trying to cool itself.

Heat Stroke – Person stops sweating because body’s cooling system is shutting down. Person’s skin is dry and hot to the touch.

Learn more about First Aid and CPR classes in the Pittsburgh Area.

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