Lazy summer days are here in north central Pennsylvania, which means sunny, warm days full of activities for kids enjoying their summer vacation. During the hot summer months, knowing how to keep children safe is important.
What are heat injuries?
When summer temperatures reach their peak, the risk of heat injuries also increases. Heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths, but heat-related deaths and injuries are preventable.
Heat injuries are a term used to describe one of several common heat-related illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. These conditions can change from one to another along a continuum. It is very important that parents pay attention to heat, as children often do not recognize the effects of heat on their own and it can cause them heat sickness problems.
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 children and adults vulnerable to dehydration. The first sign of dehydration is thirst; however, there are other signs to watch out for.
They include: Headache, irritability, lightheadedness or dizziness, boredom or disinterest, excessive fatigue, inability to play as loud or as well as usual.
Muscle cramps: Heat-related muscle cramps most often occur when a child is dehydrated and has been active in the heat for a long time. Cramps usually occur in the lower extremities, but can also occur in the abdomen. If you suspect a child is having a heat cramp, ask the child:
– Stop playing.
– Drink a sports drink to refuel fluids, preferably a drink containing sodium and electrolytes.
– Perform light stretching and massages.
Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion can occur when a child remains active during times of dehydration. This is most common later in the summer during activity. Signs of heat exhaustion include:
– Reading problem or inability to continue playing.
– Dizziness, fainting, loss of coordination.
– Profuse 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 in the air conditioning or at least in a shady place
– Remove excess clothing or equipment
– Cool with water or fans
– Lay the child down with the legs raised above heart level
– Rehydrate by giving him water or a sports drink if the child does not have nausea or vomiting
If the child does not recover quickly, see a doctor promptly.
Heat stroke: A serious heat-related illness that can lead to permanent disability or death if left untreated, heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature (accompanied by dysfunction of the nervous system) exceeds 104 degrees, usually due to vigorous activity in the heat. The risk of heat stroke increases as heat and humidity increase.
Signs that a child may have 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, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, dehydration or fighting spirit.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency and you should call 911 immediately. Until help arrives, take the child out of the heat and the sun and start cooling him down slowly and gradually.
Help your kids beat the heat
When it comes to heat illness, preparation and prevention are essential. When planning a hot day play day:
– Drink plenty of water throughout the day, before you even feel thirsty. Being thirsty means you are already dehydrated, so stop dehydration by drinking before, during, and after any hot weather activity. Always send your child to play with nearby accessible drinking water.
– Wear light, loose clothing that breathes.
– Try to exercise or play in shaded areas and take frequent breaks to cool off. It is also helpful to avoid the peak sunshine hours of the day between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm.
– Be especially careful when the humidity is high. The body has a harder time cooling down when sweating in higher humidity.
– Watch for signs of heat distress and act quickly.
Spending time outdoors is okay if your child is prepared and protected to avoid heat injury. Heat illnesses and injuries can plague children, but following these simple tips can help your child stay safe and enjoy all the fun summer has to offer.
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Mark Odorizzi, DO, is a pediatrician at UPMC in north central Pennsylvania who sees patients at UPMC Pediatrics in South Williamsport, 6 East Mountain Ave., South Williamsport. To make an appointment with Dr. Odorizzi, call 570-321-1665. For more information, visit UPMC.com/PediatricsNCPA.