Can You Get Sick from Heat Exhaustion?

Reviewed on 1/25/2022

Man feeling his forehead while outdoor in the sun
Heat exhaustion causes symptoms such as heavy sweating, nausea, dizziness, cold/pale/clammy skin, headache, fast or weak pulse, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, and fainting. Heat exhaustion can lead to life-threatening heat stroke if left untreated.

Heat exhaustion is a type of heat-related illness. It can cause mild symptoms, however, heat exhaustion can be life-threatening if it progresses to a heat stroke, so you will have to closely monitor your symptoms.

Heat exhaustion can make you feel sick with symptoms such as: 

Heat Stroke vs. Heat Exhaustion

If not treated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening medical condition that occurs when the body's cooling system stops working and the body’s core temperature increases to a point at which brain damage or damage to internal organs can occur (105° F [40.5° C] or greater).

Seek immediate medical help if you experience: 

  • Worsening symptoms
  • Symptoms lasting more than one hour
  • Inability to keep fluids down (vomiting
  • Deterioration of mental status (confusion or delirium)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain 

What Causes Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is caused by exercising, working, or playing in very hot and humid weather. 

Risk factors for developing heat exhaustion include: 

  • Inadequate fluid intake
  • Dressing in too many layers of clothing or dark-colored clothing
  • Wearing sports equipment such as heavy pads or helmets
  • Direct sun exposure with no shade
  • Alcohol consumption 
  • Low fitness level
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of acclimatization to the heat
  • Low potassium levels (hypokalemia
  • Age (toddlers and young children, the elderly) 
  • Fever
  • Use of certain medications
    • Diuretics 
    • Stimulants 
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stomach illness
  • Sickle cell trait

What Is the Treatment for Heat Exhaustion?

Treatment for heat exhaustion includes:

  • Moving to a cool, shaded area or going into an air-conditioned building or car
  • Drinking plenty of fluids 
  • Applying active cooling measures
    • Sit in front of a fan 
    • Place a cold pack or cool compress on the neck, armpits, or groin
    • Take a cool shower or bath
  • Removing tight clothing or excess clothing or sports equipment

How Do You Prevent Heat Exhaustion?

When it is hot or humid, take steps to prevent heat exhaustion, such as:

  • Don’t exercise, work, or play outdoors
  • If you exercise, work, or play outdoors:
    • Drink enough fluids, such as water or sports drinks
      • Don’t drink large amounts in a short time, which can be harmful
    • Keep activity levels low 
    • Take frequent breaks
    • Perform activities early in the day, before it gets too hot 
    • Wear loose, lightweight clothing

Pay attention to symptoms of heat exhaustion and stop activity to cool down right away so symptoms do not progress to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. 


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Reviewed on 1/25/2022
Image Source: iStock Images