The dog days of summer are in full swing and staying cool may seem like an impossible task. A heat index at or above 90°F, as identified by the National Weather Service, poses a significant health risk. High temperatures and extreme heat can cause children to become sick very quickly. It can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. Children four and under are among those at greatest risk of heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion starts slowly and can include such signs as dizziness, nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps. The skin may feel cold and clammy. If you observe these symptoms, bring the child to a cooler place. Ask them to sit still or lie down; remove any excess clothing; apply a cool, wet cloth or water to the skin; and give water to drink. It’s important not to ignore these symptoms because heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke, a life-threatening condition.
Heat stroke happens when the body is not able to cool itself quickly enough. Heat stroke requires immediate emergency medical care and can be life-threatening. In heat stroke, the skin is hot and dry instead of being cold and clammy, and the child gets sleepy and maybe confused. Children with heat stroke may also experience a high fever or seizures. Heat stroke can creep up on young kids who haven’t exerted themselves at all. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics half of children with heat stroke do not sweat. If you suspect that your child is having a heat stroke, call 911 and try to cool them down until help arrives.
If your summer plans include being outside, there are several steps you can take to beat the heat and protect your child from heat-related illness.
Stay hydrated. Schedule frequent water breaks to cool off and avoid dehydration. Teach kids to always drink plenty of liquids before and during any activity in hot, sunny weather even if they aren’t thirsty. On hot days, infants receiving breast milk in a bottle can be given additional breast milk in a bottle, but they should not be given water, especially in the first 6 months of life. Infants receiving formula can be given additional formula in a bottle.
Dress lightly. Dress children in light-colored, loose-fitting and lightweight clothing. Limit clothing to just one layer of absorbent material to maximize the evaporation of sweat.
Plan for extra rest time. Heat can often make children feel tired and contribute to irritability. Come inside regularly to cool off, rest and drink water.
Keep your cool. A good way to help a child cool down is with a cool bath or water mist. Swimming is another great way to cool off while staying active.
Never leave your child in a car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns that in just 10 minutes the temperature inside a car can rise by 20 degrees. The inside of a car can become dangerously hot even with the windows open. A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s body does. When left in a hot car, a child’s major organs begin to shut down when their temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (F). A child can die when his temperature reaches 107 degrees F.
Kids won’t tell you if there’s a problem and are less likely to be aware of the early signs of getting overheated. Children’s’ bodies produce heat faster than adults do, but they can’t get rid of it as quickly because they don’t sweat as much as adults. When it’s very humid, sweat doesn’t evaporate off the skin quickly, making it harder for the body to cool down.
When it is humid and at least 90 degrees, children should not play outside for more than 30 minutes at a time and babies under 12 months should be kept out of the sun as much as possible. Don’t let kids participate in heavy outdoor activities during the hottest hours of the day. Enjoy outdoor activities during the cooler times of the day, such as in the early morning or the evening. Teach kids to come indoors immediately whenever they feel overheated.
If you suspect your child may have heat-related issues, West Tennessee Medical Group Pediatrics can help. Find a pediatrician near you.