Playing outside during the summer is healthy and promotes benefits from exercise, however a young child’s body cannot adapt to extreme changes in temperature. Children’s bodies absorb more heat on a hot day. They do not perspire as easily as adults, so they are less able to cool off by sweating.
The Three Main Forms of Heat Illness
Dehydration is the number one concern during summer activities. It has no age boundaries and can affect anyone from a newborn to age 100. Young children tend to lose a larger percentage of their body weight in fluids than adults when sweating. Sometimes kids get so absorbed in play that they don’t stop to get a drink. Parents need to stop children from activities and encourage them to drink before they are thirsty. By the time a child feels thirst they’re mildly dehydrated.
Symptoms of dehydration include dry lips and mouth, fatigue, and dizziness. Another sign is if a child hasn’t urinated for six hours or longer. Catching dehydration early, providing fluids, and removing the child from the heat will prevent a medical emergency.
In order to prevent dehydration, a child should drink a cup of water every 20 minutes on hot days. Why not provide a personalized water bottle or cup – something that your child will love? Limit caffeinated and sweetened beverages, which can deplete the body of water. Sport drinks and coconut water have become popular these days and will keep kids and adults from losing their water capacity and electrolytes.
Not drinking enough fluids can create heat cramps during play or exercise. These cramps are an early warning sign that the body is having difficulty adjusting to the hot weather. They are brief, severe cramps that usually affect the legs, arms, or abdomen. Provide fluid for your child and lightly massage the cramped area.
Make sure to keep your child’s body cool. Have a “wet-down" period by misting each other with a spray bottle of water to avoid becoming overheated. If a child’s body is left overheated, the body temperature may continue to rise, resulting in heat stroke. Heat stroke is a medical emergency where the body temperature can rise to 108 degrees and higher causing shock. If the child shows symptoms of shock (such as a weak, rapid pulse, shallow breathing, or unresponsiveness) call for emergency help immediately.
Prevent Heat Illness With These Tips
Keep these tips in mind during outings to prevent heat illness.
- Kids need to wear wide brim hats during outdoor play.
- Wear sunglasses with a UV screening filter. They have sizes for young children.
- Always take breaks from the sun in shady places.
- Slather on the sunscreen with at least a minimum of SPF 15 or more. Be aware that sunscreen does not insulate the body from dehydration. And repeat layers of sunscreen as the body sweats if off.
- Dress the kids in appropriate lightweight clothing. When swimming take along a shirt to cover up when the sun shines down on bare skin. There are even special swimsuits that block out ultraviolet rays.
Medical conditions, or medications can cause your child to be more heat sensitive.
Keep abreast of weather reports using an app on your phone. Pay attention to temperature numbers including humidity. The “feels like" number is usually higher than the thermometer readings.
Summer is a fun time; so don’t let the hazard of heat ruin your outdoor activities. Simply make a point to be aware of your surroundings and have the necessary equipment to keep your kids safe.
Protecting Children from Extreme Heat: Information for Parents, healthychildren.org,
Preventing Heat-Related Illness, Healthy Child Care Magazine, June/July 2008
Hot weather and child safety, Better Health Channel,