The climate is warming and will continue to do so for decades.  With a warmer climate comes more frequent and severe periods of dangerous heat.  In fact, we are already seeing a concerning increase in injury and death related to heat, even in our area.  We are all familiar with heat exhaustion and heat stroke, but recent studies have demonstrated that high temperatures increase the frequency of actual strokes, heart attacks, and other illnesses. With Texas’s sweltering summer temperatures, understanding the differences between heat stroke vs heat exhaustion is crucial. Recognizing the symptoms early can prevent severe health complications and save lives. This guide will help you identify, treat, and prevent these heat-related illnesses.

Heat Stroke vs Heat Exhaustion: Key Differences

Understanding the distinction between heat stroke and heat exhaustion is vital for proper treatment. Both conditions are serious, but they vary in severity and symptoms.

What is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a condition that occurs when the body loses excessive water and salt through sweating which impairs its ability to control body temperature within a safe range. It’s often the result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity and strenuous physical activity.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache
  • Fainting
  • Rapid heartbeat

Treatment for Heat Exhaustion

  1. Move to a cooler place – Find shade or an air-conditioned environment.
  2. Hydrate – Drink water or sports drinks to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes.
  3. Rest – Lie down and elevate your legs to improve blood circulation.
  4. Cool down – Use cool, wet cloths or take a cool shower.
  5. Call 911 – If symptoms persist or worsen in spite of your efforts, seek medical attention.

What is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is a severe condition that occurs when the body’s temperature regulation system fails. It’s a medical emergency that requires immediate attention, as it can lead to organ damage or death if untreated.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

  • High body temperature (above 100°F)
  • Hot, dry skin (lack of sweating)
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Severe weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache

Treatment for Heat Stroke

  1. Call 911 immediately – Heat stroke is a medical emergency.
  2. Cool the person down – Use whatever methods available – immerse in cool water, apply ice packs, or use cool, wet cloths.
  3. Use caution with giving fluids – Do not give fluids to drink if the person is significantly confused, has had a seizure, or is too impaired to manage drinking fluids.  If you have any doubt, wait for medical professionals to arrive and decide on if and how to administer fluids, especially if the person is unconscious.

Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses

Prevention is key to avoiding heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Here are some tips to stay safe in the Texas heat:

  1. Stay Hydrated – Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially when spending time outdoors. When possible, choose electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade, Powerade, or Pedialyte.  While alcohol and caffeinated drinks are better than nothing, they aren’t as effective at rehydrating.
  2. Dress Appropriately – Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing in light colors. A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses can provide additional protection from the sun.
  3. Take Breaks – If you’re working or exercising outdoors, take frequent breaks in the shade or in air-conditioned spaces. Listen to your body and avoid overexertion.
  4. Start Slowly – If you aren’t accustomed to spending time in the heat, begin with shorter durations of exposure and lower levels of strenuous activity.
  5. Use Sunscreen – Apply sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your skin from sunburn, which can impede your body’s ability to cool down.
  6. Plan Outdoor Activities Wisely – Schedule strenuous activities for cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. Monitor weather forecasts and be aware of heat advisories.


Recognizing the signs of heat stroke vs heat exhaustion can make a critical difference in treatment and outcomes. By staying informed and taking preventative measures, you can enjoy the Texas summer safely. If you or someone else exhibits symptoms of heat stroke, seek medical help immediately. Stay cool, stay hydrated, and stay safe.