It’s summer, which means time for vacations, family gatherings, outdoor activities, the beach, pool, sports, camps and long hot days. As much fun as summer can be, it also brings challenges for you and your kids, heat being one of them.
We all know that being exposed to high temperatures can be dangerous. In Florida, the hot temperatures are magnified by humidity. Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, occur when your child is exposed to high temperatures for a period of time making his or her body unable to regulate internal temperature, which should range from 95 to 100.4 degrees.
The body responds to rising temperatures in several ways. When your child gets too warm, you’ll first notice him or her looking for shade, taking off extra clothing and getting thirsty. Second, he or she will sweat. Our ability to sweat allows our bodies to cool down. Finally, what you won’t see is the redistribution of blood flow to help heat dissipate through his or her skin.
If you notice your child experiencing fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea, vomiting or confusion, he or she might be suffering from heat exhaustion. Heat stroke, which is different from heat exhaustion, is a true medical emergency where the body’s internal temperature rises above 106 degrees. Symptoms of heat stroke — drowsiness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, abnormal behavior, convulsions and coma — may present suddenly and without warning. With heat stroke your child might suddenly stop sweating and have a very rapid heart rate. He or she might also have severe dehydration.
After the body’s temperature passes 106 degrees, all organs are impacted by heat stroke. Body temperatures that high can result in death. Prevention plays a major role in avoiding heat stroke. Make sure your kids:
▪ Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day. Plan exercise and outdoor events for morning or evening.
▪ Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and take breaks in cooler spots near you.
▪ Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing because it allows the body to sweat and cool itself.
▪ Get acclimated. If you’re not from the south, limit their time spent playing or exercising in the heat until their bodies are used to the warmer climate.
▪ Are educated about the heat and how to prepare for it.
▪ Are monitored, particularly your young athletes who are participating in summer sports or conditioning for fall sports.
Those most at risk of heat stroke are the very young and the elderly, because they are unable to help themselves seek shade, drink to rehydrate or remove clothing to cool down. Kids who are obese or suffer from certain medical conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, which can affect the ability to sweat, are also at risk for a heat-related injury. And be on the lookout for teenagers pushing themselves too hard to stay in competition or participating in vigorous training sessions without breaks or adequate hydration because of peer pressure. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can develop in anyone, even indoors. If it’s warm outside and there’s limited access to air conditioning at home or school or in the car, your child is at risk. Such a situation can quickly lead to a life-threatening circumstance.
Leaving a child or pet in a car on a hot day, even with car windows rolled down, can lead to devastating consequences, including death. Sadly, this remains a common cause of heat-related deaths in infants and children. The temperature in a car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes, especially when parked in the sun. Temperatures inside the car can reach 140 to 160 degrees.
Don’t allow heat to be a summer spoiler. Follow the steps above, and if you think your child is experiencing heat-related symptoms, get them to a cooler place, remove excess clothing and cool them down with cool water. You can also use a fan while misting cool water or place ice packs or cold wet towels on their head, neck, armpits and groin. Most importantly, if your child doesn’t respond to your cooling efforts, call 911 and seek immediate medical help.
Monica Alba-Sandoval, M.D., is a pediatrician specializing in critical care at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.