Q: How can I keep my kids safe in rising temperatures this summer?
A: The Philadelphia region has already experienced the first heat wave of the summer and it likely won’t be the last. Children are more vulnerable than adults to dramatic changes in body temperature, and for them, it can be much more costly.
Heat exhaustion is a condition that includes heavy sweating, increase in body temperature, and rapid pulse as a result of your body overheating. While heat exhaustion is less severe than heatstroke, if untreated, it can become a potentially life-threatening illness.
Risk factors that cause certain children to be more susceptible to heat exhaustion or heatstroke include being overweight or obese, sunburned, dehydrated, or having experienced prolonged exposure to high heat.
Early signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke may be difficult to recognize in children. Initial symptoms include dizziness, headaches, and weakness. Symptoms can progress over time to include nausea or vomiting, rapid breathing, elevated heart rate, red skin, confusion, and a body temperature of 103 or higher.
If you recognize initial signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke in a child, it is important to begin lowering the child’s body temperature as quickly as possible. Bringing them to an air-conditioned or shaded area, removing excess clothing, and encouraging them to drink fluids, especially those containing salt and sugar, are all simple and effective measures. In addition, placing a cool, wet cloth on their head or the back of their neck should help to reduce body temperature. If symptoms don’t improve, call your pediatrician or 911.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are avoidable, even in this hot weather. Here are a few tips to prevent these conditions:
Hydrate regularly. Keeping kids hydrated will protect against overheating, helping their bodies to produce sweat and maintain a normal body temperature throughout the day. The recommended amount of water intake can vary based on kids’ size and weight, but a general rule of thumb is to drink as many 8-ounce cups of water as their age until children reach 9 years. So for instance, a 5-year-old child should drink about five 8-ounce cups a day.
If your children are participating in organized sports, talk with the coach about making sure the kids have frequent water breaks and shade on the sidelines. When my kids were younger, I often brought a fan that sprayed a fine mist of cool water on the sidelines.
» READ MORE: How to stay hydrated
Find the shade. Moving kids out of direct sunlight can help maintain their body temperature and fight against heat exhaustion if they are starting to get too hot. It can be difficult to coax kids to move inside when they’re enjoying themselves, but even a few minutes can make a huge difference.
Dress appropriately. Wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothing can help prevent bodies from unnecessarily holding on to heat. Dark clothing can attract the sun and cause a child’s body to heat up at a faster rate. Allowing the body to sweat and cool itself naturally gives kids the best chance of maintaining a healthy body temperature under the pressure of the sun. Breathable shoes and hats can also fight against overheating.
Prevent sunburn. Sunburn isn’t just painful and damaging to skin, it also affects the body’s ability to cool itself. It’s important that kids apply sunscreen generously and often. Wearing a big hat and sunglasses can help protect the face, too.
Don’t let the heat ruin your summer fun. If you think your child is overheating, play it safe and obtain medical care.
Stephen Higgins, M.D., is a pediatrician and medical director at Independence Blue Cross.