As temperatures begin to climb and outdoor activities begin, young children, particularly athletes, can become susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
“Your child’s body regulates its temperature through sweating and radiating heat through his or her skin,” says Patricia Abboud, MD, pediatric intensivist at Dayton Children’s and a member of the Dayton Children’s Dr. Mom Squad. “In certain situations, such as unusually high temperatures, high humidity or vigorous exercise in hot weather, your child’s cooling system may begin to fail. If internal heat builds up to dangerous levels, a heat illness can result.”
There are three different types of heat illness: heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Each heat illness, if left untreated, can develop into the next, more dangerous illness.
“Heat cramps are brief, severe cramps in the muscles of the legs, arms or abdomen that typically occur during or after vigorous exercise in extreme heat,” says Dr. Abboud. “Because your child is sweating to cool down, the body can lose salt and fluids. The low level of salts causes muscles to cramp.”
Kids are particularly susceptible to heat cramps when they haven't been drinking enough fluids. Although painful, heat cramps aren't serious. If you suspect your child has heat cramps, allow your child to rest in a cool place and ensure he or she drinks fluids.
“If your child doesn’t get enough fluids heat exhaustion may result,” says Dr. Abboud. “Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dehydration, fatigue, weakness, clammy skin, headache, nausea or vomiting, rapid breathing or irritability.”
If you suspect heat exhaustion, act quickly by following these guidelines:
- Bring your child indoors or into the shade.
- Loosen or remove your child's clothing.
- Encourage your child to eat and drink.
- Give your child a bath in cool (not cold) water.
- Call your doctor for further advice. If your child is too exhausted or ill to eat or drink, intravenous (IV) fluids may be necessary.
If left untreated, heat exhaustion may escalate into heatstroke, which can be fatal.
Heatstroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening medical emergency.
“Heatstroke occurs which the body loses its ability to regulate its own temperature,” says Dr. Abboud. “If left untreated, body temperature can soar to 106º F (41.1º C) or even higher, leading to brain damage or even death. Prompt medical treatment is essential to bring the body temperature under control.”
Your child’s risk for heatstroke increases if he or she is overdressed and has extreme physical exertion in hot weather with insufficient fluid intake.
If you suspect heatstroke, act quickly by following these guidelines:
If your child has been outside in the sun or in warm temperatures exercising for a long time and shows one or more of these symptoms of heatstroke call for emergency medical help immediately.
- Flushed, hot, dry skin with no sweating
- Temperature of 105º F (40.6º C) or higher
- Severe, throbbing headache
- Weakness, dizziness or confusion
- Sluggishness or fatigue
- Decreased responsiveness
- Loss of consciousness
While waiting for help:
- Get your child indoors or into the shade.
- Undress your child and sponge or douse him or her with cool water.
- Do not give fluids.
To help protect kids from heat illness:
- Teach kids to always drink plenty of fluids before and during an activity in hot, sunny weather — even if they're not thirsty.
- Make sure kids wear light-colored, loose clothing.
- Make sure your kids only participate in heavy activity outdoors before noon and after 6:00pm.
- Teach kids to come indoors immediately whenever they feel overheated.
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