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Here's what you need to know about heat exhaustion and heat stroke

 Dr. Metzger recommends people working outdoors in the heat should follow work-rest cycles, 15 to 30 minutes of work and then rest for a similar amount of time.
Dr. Metzger recommends people working outdoors in the heat should follow work-rest cycles, 15 to 30 minutes of work and then rest for a similar amount of time.

As North Texas hits triple digit temperatures this week, the chief of Emergency Medical Services at Parkland Hospital System explains the symptoms to watch for and how best to avoid heat-related illnesses.

The sweltering heat expected will be more than uncomfortable. It can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke if you’re not careful. Dr. Jeffery Metzger, Chief of Emergency Services at Parkland Hospital and Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, explained the difference to KERA's Sam Baker.

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke

So a lot of it really has to do with your mental status.

With heat exhaustion, you're hot, you're sweaty, you may be lightheaded, you may be nauseous. And then as that progresses, people start getting confused. They may start to seize, they may go unconscious.

Once they get confused or worse than that, that's kind of what we consider heat stroke.

Some of the things to look for before it gets to that point are things like:

  • Headache
  • Thirst
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

That's a sign that you need to get out of the heat, drink some fluids, and try to get to a cool area.

Not necessarily having to seek medical attention at that point?

Not at that point. If, say, you're vomiting and you're not able to keep water down, that may be a sign that you need some medical attention. You may need some I-V fluids or something like that.

Are some people more susceptible to heat exhaustion or heat stroke than others? 

We worry about the extremes of ages. So young children, older adults.

There are some medications that can make you more susceptible to heat illness:

  • People who are on some blood pressure medicines, diuretics, and water pills can be more prone to dehydration.

  • People who drink alcohol because alcohol can make you dehydrated as well as alter your mental status and maybe cause you to miss some of those signs that your body's trying to tell you that you need to get out of the heat.
  • And then, of course, speaking about children, one of the big things that we worry about is children getting left in cars when the heat is this bad. Cars get extremely hot, extremely fast. And so children should never be left in a car when the heat index is this high.

    How do you prepare for high temperatures when you are going to be outdoors for long periods of time?

    One of the biggest things you can do is hydrate. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids before you go outdoors and make sure that you have access to cool water while you're outdoors.

    You also want to kind of watch your work-rest cycles, so maybe work for 15, 20, 30 minutes and then rest for 15, 20, 30 minutes. Try to get into a cool area and relax. Let your body cool down.

    You said fluids. Water is the thing that obviously comes to mind. Is there anything else that's acceptable?

    One of the big things to avoid is only drinking large amounts of water because as you sweat, you lose electrolytes. And if you’re just drinking water, the electrolytes in your body get depleted and that can cause problems as well.

    So either eat something with salt or drink something that has some electrolytes in it. There are several options and different recipes online with basically electrolyte drinks that can be helpful.

    Are you talking about things like Gatorade and other thirst quenchers?

    Gatorade is definitely one of the big ones. It's designed to replace a lot of those electrolytes. One of the things to be careful about Gatorade is the regular Gatorade also has a fair amount of sugar, which again, can be good if you're out working and doing something.

    But then there are also options for lower calorie electrolyte replacement as well. Gatorade has a lower calorie, lower sugar option. They need to take those extra precautions.


    CDC: Heat Stress – Heat-Related Illness

    Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke Are Too Hot To Handle on Your Own

    Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

    Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.