Summer is here in full effect in north central Pennsylvania. The sun is shining, and the warm days are packed full of activities for kids taking advantage of their summer breaks. During the hot summer months when the temperatures climb, it’s important to plan into your day opportunities to help kids cool down and avoid a heat injury.
What are Heat Injuries?
When summer temperatures reach their height, the risk of heat injury increases, too. Heat is a leading weather-related killer, but heat-related deaths and injuries are preventable.
Heat injury is a term used to describe any of multiple common heat illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. These conditions can progress from one to the next along a continuum. It’s very important for parents to be mindful of the heat as kids oftentimes will not recognize the effects of the heat themselves and this can get them into trouble with heat illness.
In order of severity, the four types of heat-related illnesses are:
- Dehydration – Of all the heat-related illnesses, dehydration is the most common. Heat and humidity make both children and adults vulnerable to dehydration. In dehydration, the first sign is thirst; however, there are other signs to watch for including:
- Light-headedness or dizziness
- Boredom or disinterest
- Excessive fatigue
- Inability to play as hard or as well as usual
Combat dehydration by encouraging water breaks as well as breaks in activity for rest, preferably in a shaded and cool area.
- Muscle Cramps – Heat related muscle cramps most often occur when a child is dehydrated and has been active in the heat over a long period. Cramps usually occur in the lower extremities but also can happen in the abdomen. If you suspect a child has a heat cramp, have the child:
- Stop playing
- Drink a sports drink to replenish fluids, preferably one containing sodium and electrolytes
- Perform some light stretching and massage
- Heat Exhaustion – Heat exhaustion can occur when a child remains active during periods of dehydration. This is most common later in the summer during activity. Signs of heat exhaustion include:
- Trouble playing or finding it impossible to keep playing
- Light-headedness, fainting, loss of coordination
- Heavy sweating
- Pale skin
- Headache, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Stomach cramps or persistent muscle cramps
If these symptoms occur, it is important to act quickly:
- Move the child to air-conditioning or at least to a shaded area
- Remove excess clothing or equipment
- Cool with water or fans
- Lie the child down with legs raised above heart level
- Rehydrate by giving water or a sports drink if the child is not nauseated or vomiting
If the child does not recover quickly, seek medical treatment promptly.
- Heat Stroke – A serious heat-related illness that can lead to permanent disability or death if untreated, heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above 104 degrees, usually because of vigorous activity in the heat. The risk of heat stroke increases as heat and humidity rise.
Signs a child may be suffering from heat stroke include:
- Seizures, confusion, emotional instability, irrational behavior, or other signs of central nervous system dysfunction
- Increase in core body temperature
- Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, weakness, fast breathing, increased heart rate, dehydration, or combativeness
Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and you should call 911 immediately. Until help arrives, take the child out of the heat and sun, and begin to carefully and gradually cool the child down.
Help Your Kids Beat the Heat
When it comes to heat illness, preparation and prevention are key. When planning for a day of play in warm weather:
- Check the forecast. Heat illnesses can set in even on cloudy days. Be especially careful when the humidity level is high. The body has a harder time cooling itself by sweating in higher humidity since sweat will not evaporate as quickly.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even before you feel thirsty. Feeling thirsty means you’re already dehydrated, so stop dehydration by drinking before, during, and after any activities in the heat. Always send your child out to play with drinking water accessible nearby.
- Wear lightweight, loose fitting clothing that breathes.
- Try to exercise or play in shaded areas and take frequent breaks to cool down. It’s also helpful to avoid the peak sun hours of the day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Monitor for signs of heat distress and act quickly.
Spending time outside is okay if your child is prepared and protected to avoid heat injuries. Heat illness and injury can sneak up on kids but following these simple tips can help your child stay safe and enjoy all the fun that summer has to offer.
Mark Odorizzi, D.O., is a physician with UPMC Pediatrics and sees patients at UPMC Primary Care, 175 Pine St., Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Odorizzi, call 570-326-2447. For more information, visit UPMC.com/PediatricsNCPA.