Summer 2024 is already a scorcher, with several days of excessive heat warnings — the National Weather Service's highest warning — issued for millions of people. Raleigh, North Carolina, documented its highest temperature on record July 6 at 106 degrees F.

This summer as temperatures continue to reach blazing heights, visits to emergency rooms nationwide will rise for incidences of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration. An estimated 1,220 Americans die of heat-related causes annually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.

Good health starts with an annual check-up.

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Why are high temperatures dangerous?

Rising temperatures can cause high body temperatures, organ and brain damage as people’s bodies struggle to cool themselves. Normally, the body’s natural cooling mechanism, sweat, evaporates off the skin to cool the body, but in extreme heat that evaporation might not be enough to cool you off. And an abrupt change in humidity – more than a rise in temperatures – will affect the body’s cooling mechanism.

Some people are more susceptible to extreme heat than others. Those most at risk of heat-related conditions include the elderly, children, poor or homeless people without access to air conditioning, workers or athletes who are outside for long periods of time, and people with chronic medical conditions.

The elderly are most susceptible to classic heat illnesses or heat exhaustion because they have trouble adjusting to significant changes in temperature. People with high blood pressure using medication to manage that condition are also at risk because the drugs affect the fluid levels in the body.

Exertional heat illness can affect athletes who try to maintain their normal fitness routines but haven’t yet acclimated to a rise in humidity or heat.

What’s the difference between heat stroke and exhaustion?

The difference between these two heat-related conditions is in the symptoms and severity.

According to the CDC, symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • A pulse that is either too fast or too slow
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

Heat stroke can manifest in other ways, including:

  • A body temperature higher than 103 degrees F
  • Skin that feels hot, red or moist to the touch
  • A quick and strong pulse
  • Unconsciousness

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