Summer is a season of fun for kids. School's out, and they're ready for pool parties, barbecues, weeknight ice cream outings and camps where they can meet lifelong friends.
In the midst of all this excitement, it's important to know how to keep kids safe. Spending time in the sun is OK, as long as your child is protected by sunscreen with adequate SPF, but proper hydration, clothing and rest periods are key to avoiding serious heat illnesses – the most severe being heat stroke. Heat exhaustion symptoms, a milder form of heat illness, often precede heat stroke.
Cases of heat stroke spike at the end of June into July each year and continue through August. Troy Smurawa, M.D., Director of Pediatric Sports Medicine at the Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, says that heat stroke in children can be extremely serious.
"Heat stroke is a severe type of heat illness that occurs when a child's body creates more heat than it can release,"explains Dr. Smurawa. "This results in a rapid increase in core body temperature, leading to brain damage or death if not promptly treated."
Heat stroke symptoms include:
- A body temperature that rises dangerously high – above 104˚ Fahrenheit
- Absence of sweating
- Confusion, disorientation
- Flushed, hot and dry skin (skin may be wet)
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing
- Severe headache
- Weakness and/or dizziness
What should you do?
Dr. Smurawa says that heat stroke is a medical emergency. If your child has been outdoors, or in any hot environment, and shows symptoms, seek emergency medical treatment immediately.
As soon as possible:
- Bring your child indoors or into the shade and undress him or her
- Begin rapid cooling by immersing him or her in a bathtub of cold water
- If not available, apply cold towels over much of the body replacing frequently
- Avoid pushing fluids unless your child is conscious and alert
Heat stroke in athletes and in babies
Heat stroke in athletes is not uncommon, especially when kids are participating in intense sports practices or camps between noon and 6 p.m., the hottest parts of the day. If your child is an athlete, make sure he or she takes water breaks every 15 minutes and wears appropriate clothing: light colored, lightweight and protective against the sun. Talk to coaches about your concerns and make sure they have a plan for hydration and emergencies.
Heat stroke in a baby is rare but very dangerous. Allowing a baby or child to stay outside too long in hot weather, ride in a hot car or sit in a parked car – which should never occur – can cause his or her body temperature to rise quickly. Since babies and very young children can't tell you when they're uncomfortable, watch out for signs like restlessness, rapid breathing, lethargy, irritability or vomiting.
Heat exhaustion symptoms
Before heat stroke symptoms appear, kids often show symptoms of milder heat illnesses – heat cramps and heat exhaustion. If your child complains of painful muscle cramps in his or her legs, arms or abdomen after exercise in hot weather, bring him or her to a cool place, introduce fluids that contain salt (like sports drinks) and gently stretch or massage sore muscles.
Dr. Smurawa explains that heat exhaustion and heat cramps usually occur after a child has been exercising in the heat and becomes dehydrated from losing excessive fluids and salt from sweating.
"It's important to treat heat exhaustion immediately, as it can develop into heat stroke,"says Dr. Smurawa. "Bring your child to a cool place, encourage him or her to drink cool fluids (like sports drinks) and apply a cold wet towel or sponge to the skin. If your child is unable to drink or seems to be losing alertness, call your doctor or seek medical attention."
If your child has heat exhaustion, he or she may show the following symptoms:
- An elevated body temperature, usually less than 104˚ Fahrenheit
- Cool, clammy skin despite the heat
- Fainting, dizziness or weakness
- Increased sweating
- Increased thirst
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Learn more from the experts at Children's Health about keeping your family safe and healthy this summer.
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