The lazy summer days are here in north central Pennsylvania, with sunny, warm days full of activities for kids taking advantage of their summer vacation. During the hot summer months it is important to know how to keep children safe.
What are heat injuries?
When summer temperatures reach their peak, so does the risk of heat injury. Heat is a leading weather-related killer, but heat-related deaths and injuries are preventable.
Heat injury is a term used to describe any of the common heat illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. These terms can go from one to the other along a continuum.
It is very important for parents to be mindful of the heat, as children often will not recognize the effects of the heat on their own and this can get them into trouble with heat illness.
In order of severity, the four types of heat-related illness are:
• Dehydration — Of all heat-related illnesses, dehydration is the most common. Heat and humidity make both children and adults vulnerable to dehydration. In dehydration, the first sign is thirst; however, there are other signs to watch out for. They contain:
o Light-headedness or dizziness
o Boredom or disinterest
o Excessive fatigue
o Inability to play as hard or as good as usual
• Muscle cramps — Heat-related muscle cramps most often occur when a child is dehydrated and has been active in the heat for a long period of time. Cramps usually occur in the lower extremities, but can also occur in the abdomen. If you suspect a child has heat cramps, have the child:
o Stop playing
o Drink a sports drink to replenish fluids, preferably one that contains sodium and electrolytes
o Do some light stretching and massage
• Heat exhaustion — Heat exhaustion can occur when a child remains active during periods of dehydration. This is most common later in the summer during activity. Signs of heat exhaustion include:
o Difficulty playing or finding it impossible to keep playing
o Light-headedness, fainting, loss of coordination
o Heavy sweating
o Pale skin
o Headache, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
o Stomach cramps or persistent muscle cramps
If these symptoms occur, it is important to act quickly:
o Move the child to air conditioning or at least a shady place
o Remove any excess clothing or equipment
o Cool with water or fans
o Lay the child down with legs raised above heart level
o Hydrate by giving water or sports drink if the child is not nauseous or is vomiting
If the child does not recover quickly, seek medical attention immediately.
• Heat Stroke — A serious heat-related illness that, if left untreated, can lead to permanent disability or death. Heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature (accompanied by nervous system dysfunction) rises above 104 degrees, usually as a result of vigorous activity in the heat. The risk of heat stroke increases as heat and humidity rise.
Signs that a child may have heat stroke include:
o Seizures, confusion, emotional instability, irrational behavior or other signs of central nervous system dysfunction
o Increase in core body temperature
o Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, weakness, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, dehydration or combativeness
Heat stroke is a medical emergency and you should call 911 immediately. Until help arrives, remove the child from the heat and sun and begin to cool the child gently and gradually.
Help your kids beat the heat
When it comes to heat illness, preparation and prevention are key. When planning a game day in warm weather:
• Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even before you get thirsty. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, so stop dehydration by drinking before, during, and after activities in the heat. Always send your child outside to play with drinking water nearby.
• Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that breathes.
• Try exercising or playing in shady areas and take regular breaks to cool down. It is also helpful to avoid the peak hours of the day between 10am and 2pm
• Be especially careful when the humidity is high. The body has a harder time cooling itself by sweating at higher humidity.
• Check for signs of heat stress and act quickly.
Spending time outside is okay if your child is prepared and protected to avoid heat injuries.
Heat and injuries can sneak up on kids, but by following these simple tips, your child can stay safe and enjoy all the fun summer has to offer.
Mark Odorizzi, DO, is a pediatrician at UPMC in North Central Pa. seeing patients at UPMC Pediatrics in South Williamsport, 6 East Mountain Ave., South Williamsport. Call 570-321-1665 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Odorizzi. For more information, visit UPMC.com/PediatricsNCPA.
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