What Is Heat Stroke And How Can We Prevent It On Hot Days?

Heat Stroke Prevention Tips for Children

Heat stroke usually develops as a progression from milder heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps and heat exhaustion. When a person’s internal temperature rises too high (typically above 104°F), the body’s cooling mechanisms (such as sweating and vasodilation) become overwhelmed and unable to dissipate heat effectively. The most common symptoms of heat stroke are flushed skin, dizziness, confusion, rapid breathing and heartbeat, nausea/vomiting and headache.

Heat Stroke Prevention Tips for Children

Preventing heat stroke in children is paramount, especially during hot weather or when they’re engaged in physical activities. Babies and children are more susceptible to heat stress because they sweat less and thus have a limited ability to cool down in the heat. 

Start by ensuring they stay hydrated throughout the day, encouraging frequent water breaks even if they don’t feel thirsty. Children should avoid sugary or caffeinated drinks, as they can contribute to dehydration. It can be helpful to offer electrolyte-enhanced beverages if the child will be exerting themselves or sweating. 

We certainly want to encourage activities outside in the fresh air over those inside (especially behind a screen), but it is best to plan outdoor activities for the early morning or evening, which tend to be cooler times of day as the sun is low (avoid 12-4PM). When possible, opt for shaded areas outside, whether shaded naturally or as provided by umbrellas or canopies. Dress children in lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing to facilitate heat dissipation and encourage sweat evaporation. In addition to appropriate clothing, it’s crucial to apply sunscreen liberally and regularly to protect any exposed skin from harmful UV rays, which can worsen heat stress. Sunburns can impair the body’s ability to cool itself. 

If your child is old enough, educate them about recognizing the signs of heat-related illnesses, as mentioned above and emphasize the importance of talking to an adult and resting in a cool place if they start feeling unwell. If they are playing sports or in a camp that has outdoor play, have them use the buddy system to alert a teacher or coach if a friend is having trouble.

During physical activities or sports, monitor their exertion levels closely, encouraging breaks in shaded areas and providing ample opportunities to hydrate. Children with certain medical conditions or those taking medications that affect heat tolerance may require extra vigilance. Finally, ensure indoor environments are adequately cooled during hot weather, either with fans or air conditioning, and never leave children (or animals) alone in parked vehicles, as temperatures can rise dangerously fast.

Immediate medical attention is crucial for anyone suspected of having heat stroke. While waiting for medical help, it’s essential to move the person to a cooler environment, remove excess clothing, and attempt to cool them down using methods such as applying cold water to the skin, fanning, or placing ice packs on the neck, groin, and armpits.

By staying aware of these preventive measures and adapting them to suit individual needs, parents and caregivers can significantly reduce the risk of heat stroke and ensure children enjoy safe, active summers. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician with any questions. 

Read Also: Summer Travel: A Few Tips To Stay Healthy Away From Home

Jackie Phillips, MD, July, 2024

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