Living in Arizona, we have such wonderful weather most of the year. Summers, however, can be challenging due to the heat. Fortunately, if you know what to watch out for as a parent or caregiver, your children can be safe despite the scorching heat.
First, it’s important to know what collection of symptoms kids can get, and when to worry about the heat being too much. There are several forms of heat illnesses from mild to severe.
Heat Cramps vs. Heat exhaustion vs. Heat stroke.
Heat Cramps: This is a mild form of heat illness. Heat cramps are muscle cramps that develop in extreme heat when exercising vigorously. Try to keep hydrated to avoid these. If your child complains of pains in legs or arms when exercising in hot weather (typically a heat index greater than 90 degrees), they should stop exercising. Try to get them into a cool place or under shade if in the sun, and re-hydrate. If the muscle pains go away, they can resume their activity.
Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is a moderate form of heat illness. This is when someone is in extreme heat and not able to keep up with their hydration needs. When experiencing heat exhaustion, kids and teens can exhibit the following symptoms:
- increased thirst
- dizziness or fainting
- muscle cramps
- nausea and/or vomiting
- heavy sweating
- cool, clammy skin
- a raised body temperature, but less than 104°F (40°C)
If the above develops, try to get them to a cool place and have your child drink fluids as much as possible. If you can give fluids with sugar and salt (e.g. oral rehydration solutions, such as sports drinks or Pedialyte), this is better. Remove clothing and use cool towels to reduce your child’s body temperature.
If a child with the above symptoms cannot drink fluids due to the nausea or vomiting, they may need intravenous fluids (IVF) to help get them hydrated. Do not wait if your child is not improving. Heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke, which is more dangerous. Call your pediatrician for advice if the above symptoms don’t start to abate within an hour.
Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most dangerous form of heat illness. It occurs when your body cannot control its temperature and can lead to dangerous levels of heat within your body. In extreme conditions heat stroke can cause brain damage and even death.
Symptoms of heat stroke 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
If you think your child is experiencing heat stroke, please call 911. While waiting for help to arrive try to move the child or teen into the shade, remove clothes to keep as cool as possible. In this case do NOT give fluids unless they are alert, acting normally, and awake.
Tips to stay cool
- Keep hydrated – try to drink before and after activities, even if not thirsty to prevent heat illness.
- Dress accordingly – light fabrics, light colors help prevent overheating.
- Keep your cool – cool mist, water guns, pools – when children are in water or exposed to small amounts of water, as the water evaporates, it cools the body’s surface. If in the pool, be sure to remember your sunscreen.
- Air conditioning – find places to go in case your home does not have air-conditioning or your air-conditioning breaks. Libraries and malls are free, climate – controlled options in many communities. Try to have a plan for an air-conditioned place to stay overnight in case of emergencies.
Helene Felman, MD, FAAP is a practicing pediatrician in southeast Arizona. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago in both Biology and Public Policy. Dr. Felman has been actively involved with the AAP since 2010. She currently is part of the Arizona AAP Advocacy Committee, helping to promote the health and well-being of children and teens at the state legislative level. She lives in Tucson, AZ with her husband where she enjoys hiking and exploring the beautiful Sonoran desert.