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Preventing Heat-Related illness in Kids

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With temperatures in the 90s and climbing, children are vulnerable to heat-related illness during the summer months.

Children are actually at a higher risk for heat exhaustion than adults. The difference is that a child's body surface area makes up a much greater proportion of his overall weight than an adult's, which means children face a much greater risk of dehydration and heat-related illness.

One of the best ways to prevent heat stroke in children is to make sure they are hydrated.  “It’s important for parents to have their kids take breaks and drink fluids,” says Dr. Ken Haller, an associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “Water is usually good enough, and the occasional electrolyte solution, like Gatorade, is not a bad idea.”

Haller also notes that taking a break, whether inside or in the shade, can be helpful. And, if they are busy drinking water, your young charges are not heating themselves up by running around. Taking a break gives their small bodies time to cool down.

Children aren’t the best judge of when they are over-heated or dehydrated, that’s why it is important for parents to pay attention to how long their kids are outside and how much fluid they are getting.

And don’t be fooled just because it’s a cloudy day. While sun can definitely be a factor in heat stroke, Haller cautions that kids can still work up a sweat even in the shade if the day is hot enough.

The symptoms for heat exhaustion and heat stroke can slip up on you before you become fully aware of them. Typically, we keep our bodies cool by sweating.  Heat stroke develops when we become too dehydrated to perspire. Our bodies start to heat up even more when we can’t sweat.

The warning signs of heat exhaustion can range from nausea and vomiting to fatigue and muscle cramps.

Heat stroke symptoms in a child are: a headache, feeling dizzy, acting disoriented, agitated or confused, hallucinations, fatigue, seizure, skin that is hot, dry and flushed but not sweaty and a high body temperature of 104F or higher. Symptoms of a heat stroke are nothing to take lightly.

If you suspect that your child is having a heat stroke call 911 immediately. You can also take the child to a shady place that is cool. Remove any unnecessary clothing and fan warm air over the child while wetting the skin with lukewarm water. This will help in the cooling-down process.

Dehydration prevention is key to helping children avoid heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Make sure they drink cool water early and often. Send your child out to practice or play fully hydrated. Then, during play, make sure your child takes regular breaks to drink fluid, even if your child isn't thirsty. A good size drink for a child, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is 5 ounces of cold tap water for a child weighing 88 pounds, and nine ounces for a teen weighing 132 pounds. One ounce is about two kid-size gulps.

Early signs of dehydration include fatigue, thirst, dry lips and tongue,  lack of energy, and feeling overheated. But if kids wait to drink until they feel thirsty, they're already dehydrated. Thirst doesn't really kick in until a child has lost 2% of his or her body weight as sweat.

A simple rule of thumb: if your child's urine is dark in color, rather than clear or light yellow, he or she may be becoming dehydrated.

 Other factors that can put your child at greater risk for heat illness include obesity, recent illness (especially if the child has been vomiting or has had diarrhea), and use of antihistamines or diuretics.

Lack of acclimatization to hot weather and exercising beyond their level of fitness can also lead to heat illness in young athletes.

The time of day can also have an impact on how over-heated your child becomes. Outdoor playtime is better scheduled in the morning and early evening to avoid the hottest part of the day. It’s good to have shady areas nearby to get out of the sun and rest for a little while.

No one recommends keeping your child indoors all summer. Kids need unstructured playtime and exercise to stay fit mentally and physically. However, making sure they are hydrated and take breaks is the best way to prevent a potentially life –threatening situation.

Story sources: Connie Brichford, http://www.everydayhealth.com/kids-health/heat-stroke.aspx

http://www.webmd.com/children/dehydration-heat-illness#1

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