When we are enjoying the outdoors with our little ones we tend to be diligent about the sunscreen and hats but it’s important to remember how easily children can over heat if over dressed or just out playing in the sun. A fun afternoon play date in the park can quickly turn serious if your child gets heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Knowing the signs to look out for and taking preventative measures is the key to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
First symptom of over heating, although not serious, is heat cramps they occur when the body starts to get dehydrated, losing salt and causing cramping. Try and find a shady, cool place for the child to rest and rehydrate. Apple juice is a good source of electrolytes for rehydration and what’s easier than throwing in a few juice boxes in your bag for your day at the beach. To alleviate your little ones pain from cramping be sure to extend the muscle, stretching it out. For example a calf muscle cramp can be stretched by having the child sit on the ground and pushing their flexed foot toes towards their nose or standing on a log and letting their heel hang over the edge.
Heat Exhaustion is the next stage and slightly more serious and usually a result of the child not drinking enough fluids throughout the day.
Symptoms can include:
- increased thirst
- muscle cramps
- nausea and/or vomiting
- increase sweating
- cool, clammy skin
- elevation of body temperature, but less than 40°C
Again take the child to a shady cool place and replace fluids. Take off any excess clothing and apply cool wet face cloths or run a cool bath to decrease their core body temperature.
If left untreated heat exhaustion can rapidly turn into heat stroke which is a medical emergency. During an episode of heat stroke the body loses it ability to regulate it’s own temperature temporarily. When the body’s temperature rises above 40°C there is significant increased risk for brain damage and possibly death. If you suspect heat stroke in your child seek emergency medical help immediately and in the mean time get them into a cool bath as quickly as possible. The recommendation from my pediatrician is to only provide fluid replacement if the child is awake and alert.
Heat stroke symptoms can include:
- severe headache
- weakness, dizziness
- rapid breathing and heartbeat
- loss of consciousness
- no sweating
- flushed, hot, dry skin
- temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher
The most important thing to remember is to keep cool and hydrated. Pack; not only water, but juice or sports drinks as well for electrolyte replacement. Remember smaller children are more susceptible to heat exhaustion so be conscious of how long you are out in the sun and monitor their fluid intake throughout the day.
Teach kids to listen to their bodies and encourage them to take plenty of breaks in the shade. If you’re experiencing a heat wave in your area be aware and take children out earlier in the morning and later in the evening when the sun is not at it’s hottest.