700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

How to Prevent Heat Related Illness

Aug 07, 2013
As parents, we naturally worry about our children playing outside in the hot sun. Children are at risk when temperatures skyrocket, but preparations before, during, and after heat exposure can make a difference in your child’s ability to tolerate the heat. First recognizing dangerous conditions is important. When it comes to heat related illness, it’s not only the high temperatures that matter, but humidity can cause sweat to evaporate more slowly, making it more difficult to release heat. Second, kids are not just little adults. There are several specific factors that affect a child’s ability to regulate heat, making them higher risk for heat related illness.
  • Kids have a higher metabolic rate than adults, which means they produce more heat from their bodies.
  • Small children have a higher body surface area, making them absorb heat from external sources more quickly.
  • Kids have a smaller blood volume, limiting their ability to dissipate heat.
  • Kids sweat less, and begin sweating at a higher body temperature, making the cooling process slower and more difficult.
  • Kids are less likely to drink an adequate amount of fluids when needed.

Know When to Prevent

If your family is outside on a hot day, a good indicator of how your child feels is how you feel.If you are hot and thirsty, your child is too. Keep cold water available at all times and sit in the shade when possible. Never leave your child in a car or enclosed space. The temperature increases quickly, even when it isn’t very hot outside. If you have an athlete, be vigilant about hydration before, during and after activity.

  • Schedule activities during the coolest parts of the day (early morning or late afternoon/evening); consider cancelling or delaying an activity under extreme conditions.
  • Allow athletes to gradually adjust to exercising in hot, humid weather by increasing activities slowly over the first 2 weeks of practice.
  • Avoid the use of excessive clothing and equipment.
  • Schedule breaks every 10 to 15 minutes during any activity that lasts longer than 1 hour.
  • Weigh athletes before and after each activity. Athletes should replace all of their weight lost during any exercise period prior to the next exercise period.
  • Make sure plenty of cold water and sports drinks are available before, during, and after each activity.
  • Encourage athletes to drink 4 to 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during any activity period.
  • Encourage athletes to eat a balanced diet that provides the necessary vitamins and minerals.
  • Identify athletes at high risk, such as athletes who are obese, are poorly conditioned, are not acclimated, have a current illness, are taking certain medicines, or have a history of previous heat-related problems.

How do you know when your child is experiencing signs of illness related to heat? There are varying degrees of heat illness ranging from dehydration to heat stroke, and it is important to recognize the signs early to prevent serious illness.

Know The Signs:

  • The skin may become warm and flushed, and may be sweaty.
  • In more severe cases the skin may be dry.
  • The mouth may become dry and sticky.
  • Young children may have behavioral changes such as fatigue or irritability, and older children may exhibit poor judgment.
  • Muscle cramps can occur, usually in the larger muscle groups like the hamstrings and buttocks.
  • Some children may have nausea and vomiting.

Know What To Do:

When a child or adolescent begins to exhibit signs of trouble, it is important to act quickly.

  • Have someone call 911 immediately.
  • Move the child to the shade or indoors if possible.
  • Remove the clothing from the child.
  • Pour or spray cool water on the child, or wrap in a cool wet sheet.
  • Have someone stay with the child and continue to cool until help arrives.

Heat related illness is preventable! It is critical that everyone involved with your child is aware of the risks of high intensity exercise in hot or humid climates. We all need to watch our children closely. If you are concerned about the safety of the program your child is participating in, never hesitate to discuss it with the coach or athletic trainer. We all need to advocate to keep our children safe!

Featured Expert

Elizabeth Zmuda, DO
Emergency Medicine

Elizabeth Zmuda, DO, completed her residency at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2008. She currently works in the Department of Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care at Nationwide Children’s.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.