As the temperature rises and the sun shines brighter, it’s that time of year when families eagerly embrace the joys of warm weather. Yet, amidst the excitement of outdoor adventures, it’s crucial for parents to remain vigilant about their children’s well-being. Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, can swiftly take a toll on our little ones, but armed with the right knowledge and preventative measures, we can ensure their safety and make the most of this sunny season. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the signs, and preventive strategies to help you navigate the scorching days ahead, ensuring that your family can enjoy some fun in the sun while staying cool, comfortable, and safe.

What are the Common Heat-Related Illnesses?

Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke are all heat-related illnesses that can pose serious dangers, especially for children. This is because children’s bodies have a harder time regulating their body temperatures. They rely on adults to prevent overheating and related illnesses. Teens are also at risk, with over 9,000 student-athletes treated for heat-related illnesses every year.

The three most common heat-related illnesses can be placed on rising a scale of severity. Heat cramps are the mildest, heat exhaustion is more severe, and lastly, heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate medical attention.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are characterized as muscle cramps and spasms that occur after a lot of sweating or exercise in high temperatures.

If your child experiences heat cramps ensure they stop physical activity and begin drinking water in a cooler location like in air conditioning or in the shade. Do not allow them to resume activity until the cramps pass.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion typically occurs due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures and lack of hydration. It is characterized by symptoms such as excessive sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, increased heart rate, and sometimes a  low-grade fever over 100.4°F. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical attention.

If you notice a child experiencing many of the above symptoms, act immediately. It’s crucial to tend to heat exhaustion before it can escalate to heat stroke. First, move them to a cool location and loosen clothing where possible. Then apply cool, damp cloths to the skin or provide a cool bath. Also, have them sip water at a slow pace to avoid drinking too much too quickly.

Heat Stroke

Heatstroke is the most severe heat-related illness. It occurs when the body’s internal temperature reaches dangerously high levels (over 103°F). This is because the body’s natural cooling mechanisms fail to regulate temperature, leading to symptoms like hot and dry skin due to halted sweating, a strong rapid pulse, confusion, and unconsciousness. This extreme condition is a medical emergency that demands immediate professional intervention to prevent serious complications, including organ damage, organ failure and death.

Call 911 or take them directly to the hospital. If you are waiting for medical assistance to arrive, move them to a cooler location, and try to lower their body tempter with cool damp cloths or a cool bath. Because heat stroke is accompanied by lowered mental capabilities like confusion and passing out, it’s recommended that you do not provide them with anything to drink. Medical professionals will be able to best advise when and how it’s safe for them to rehydrate.

Preventing Common Heat-Related Illnesses

There are some tactics to teach children and teens when it comes to preventing heat-related illnesses. Here are some tips for how you can help prevent these conditions. 

  • Teach the importance of drinking water before and during activities in sunny, hot weather. Be sure to mention to do so even when they don’t feel thirsty.
  • Provide plenty of water when you expect children and teens to be active in the heat.
  • Have extra cold water and washcloths on hand just in case. Being prepared and getting ahead of heat exhaustion will prevent the condition to worsen into heat stroke.
  • Avoid caffeine-heavy drinks like coffee when out in the heat as they can lead to dehydration.
  • Prevent kids and teens from being heavily active during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Teach kids to come inside or find shade immediately if they start to feel overheated.
  • Do not leave kids alone in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked on a mild day. Their bodies cannot regulate temperature like adults and is a leading cause of infant death from heat illness in the United States.
  • Dress children in lightweight, lightly colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Remind or encourage kids and teens to rest often in shaded areas.
  • Provide a spray bottle for kids to cool off by misting themselves.
  • Slowly build up to spending more time outside to get children used to the weather.
  • Spend time indoors on very hot and humid days.
  • Keep them protected from the sun with sunscreen, hats, and umbrellas.

In Conclusion

It’s crucial to prioritize our children’s safety and well-being, especially when it comes to heat-related illnesses. By understanding the risks, recognizing the signs, and taking proactive measures, we can ensure our little ones stay cool, hydrated, and protected during sweltering weather. Let’s enjoy the sun while keeping our precious ones healthy, happy, and safe. Remember, a little preparation and vigilance can go a long way in preventing heat-related illnesses and ensuring countless memorable summers ahead for our families.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nemours, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Scientific American, National Library of Medicine.