Summer is a great time to be outdoors, but as we all know, it can get hot. Dangerously hot. Children are particularly at risk for the high temperatures of summer simply because they are constantly on the go, and we are left reminding them to drink some water. Add to that the number of kids training or practicing in the heat and you've got a dangerous combination of overheating and dehydration.
Here's how to recognize, treat, and most of all, prevent heat related illnesses in your children.
Know how the body handles heat
Sweating is the primary way your child dissipates heat from her body. When she is exercising, her muscles create up to 20 times more heat. Add in higher outdoor temperatures combined with high humidity (high heat index) and what you have is a child's body unable to sweat, like it needs to in order to effectively cool the body. What results is a potential for dangerously high body temperatures.
When is it too hot to play?
When deciding on whether to let your child play and/or exercise in the outdoor heat, it's best to take a look at the heat index. The heat index takes into account both the actual temperature and the humidity. High heat and humidity result in a high heat index that could signal trouble. In general, heat indexes of 100 or higher are considered unsafe for prolonged or vigorous outdoor play. Extreme caution should be used for indexes in the 90s as dehydration and exhaustion can quickly ensue if not spotted and treated quickly.
From heat exhaustion to heat stroke
The first signs of heat illness may begin with painful muscle cramps. These occur most often in the legs and are known as heat fatigue. If your child continues to exercise and play, body temperatures can rise quickly paving the way for heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion presents as an increase in body temperature (up to 104 F) with nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and dizziness taking hold. At this point, the child must be taken indoors or to a shaded area and immediately cooled off using cold washcloths or a cool bath. Offer plenty of cold water and seek medical attention if necessary.
Heat exhaustion can swiftly progress to heat stroke which is a life threatening medical emergency. Confusion, body temperatures of 105 F (or greater), seizures and shock are the hallmarks of heat stroke.
Prevention is your best defense
Parents and coaches should keep an eye on the heat indexes in their areas when they know kids will be outside playing, practicing, and/or exercising. Know when to reschedule practices and know when to just keep the kids indoors (see above recommendations regarding heat indexes).
Allow kids time to acclimate to the heat when just beginning training in certain sports, such as football. Gradually increase intensity of play when high heat is a factor. Dress in light colored and lightweight clothing to allow for sufficient sweating.
Wear sunscreen to prevent sunburn as sunburned skin has limited ability to sweat, thus interfering with proper heat dissipation.
Water is the best way to rehydrate
Mandatory water breaks are a must for children. Call them in every 15 to 20 minutes to take in some water. Don't wait until they're thirsty as this could quickly put them behind the eight ball as far as hydration goes. No need for sports drinks, energy drinks, juice or soda. Good old fashion water is the way to go.
DR. MOM'S BOTTOM LINe^ Summer is meant to be played outside. Get familiar with the heat index in your area, stay on top of your child's hydration, and know when it's time to head inside for some shade, rest and ice cold water.