10 Tips to Prevent Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Young Children
Heat exhaustion is a condition that occurs when the body overheats. Exposure to high temperature, combined with high humidity or strenuous physical activity can lead to heat exhaustion. The body is unable to cool itself efficiently. Dehydration can develop. The main issue with dehydration is the loss of electrolytes and minerals (e.g., sodium chloride, potassium, calcium and sodium bicarbonate) that the body needs to regulate bodily fluids, “and are important in muscle contraction, energy generation, and almost all major biochemical reactions in the body.” (Encyclopedia of Children’s Health)
Untreated heat exhaustion leads to heat stroke. A person is considered to have heat stroke if their body temperature is higher than 105F (40C). In some cases, a person’s body temperature can go as high as 106F. At these temperatures, the body’s systems start to shut down. “Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate life-saving measures.” (Encyclopedia for Children’s Health)
Heat Stroke risk in Young Children
According to the CDC, between 1979 and 2003, excessive heat exposure caused over 8,000 deaths in the United States, more than those caused by hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.
Infants, toddlers and young children are at increased risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke for several reasons. Children are very active in the summer and do not realize the importance of slowing down and drinking sufficient fluids. Their bodies are smaller, but compared to their body mass, they have a greater surface area of skin through which to lose fluids. “Small people can sweat out a lot of their body water in a shorter amount of time.” (Ken Haller, EverydayHealth.com) Children’s bodies overheat much more easily than adult bodies because “children are less able to lower their body heat by sweating.” (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
10 Tips to Prevent Heat Stroke in Young Children
The following tips to prevent heat stroke in young children are compiled from the CDC, the Encyclopedia for Children’s Health, EverydayHealth.com, and Comer Children’s Hospital (University of Chicago).
1) Drinking plenty of fluids may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many people think they can skimp on this one. Do not wait until your children tell you they’re thirsty. Water is usually enough. Avoid drinks with lots of sugar.
2) Replace lost salt and minerals with sports drinks or slightly salty water (1 tsp of salt per quart of water) or lightly salted food.
3) Dress young children in lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing.
4) Make sure your children are wearing sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and a wide-brimmed hat even on cloudy days to prevent sunburn. “Sunburn affects your [child’s] body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids.” (CDC)
5) Schedule outdoor activities for mornings and evenings. The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 3-4 p.m.
6) Monitor physical activity. Gradually introduce and increase your child’s physical activity on hot days as the days grow warmer to help your child acclimatize to the change in weather.
7) Stay indoors as much as possible on really humid (“muggy”) days. If your home is not air-conditioned, plan to spend time in a mall, library or other public building that is. “[E]ven a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your [child’s] body stay cooler when [she goes] back into the heat.” (CDC)
8) Do not leave your child in a car even with the windows down. “Vehicles heat up quickly – even with a window rolled down two inches, if the outside temperature is in the low 80s … the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes … In fact, when left in a hot vehicle, a young child’s body temperature may increase three to five times as fast as an adult.” (NHTSA)
9) Avoid serving hot foods and heavy meals as they will add heat to your child’s body.
10) Make sure your children take frequent breaks to let their bodies cool down.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
Heat disorders. Encyclopedia of Children’s Health. Web. May 18, 2012.
Heat stress and heat-related illness. BetterHealthChannel. Web. May 18, 2012. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Heat_stress_and_heat-related_illness
Heat stroke. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Web. May 18, 2012.
Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. May 18, 2012.
“Preventing Heat Stroke in Kids” Brichford, Connie. EverydayHealth.com. Web. May 18, 2012.
Heat-Related Illnesses (Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke). Comer Children’s Hospital The University of Chicago. Web. May 18, 2012.
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