The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are over 600 deaths each year related to excessive natural heat. What makes this statistic more alarming is that heatstroke is 100% preventable when you take precautions.
Parents must be especially cautious when it comes to children and heat. A child’s low body weight in proportion to their greater body surface area increases their risk of succumbing to heat.
Children are usually also less aware of the dangers of heatstroke; they definitely forget to take precautions more often. They get caught up in the moment, playing. It is up to parents or caretakers to be the “heat sensors” for children and find ways to cool them down throughout the day. Always consider how you can protect your child from the heat this summer and recognize the signs.
What is Heatstroke?
The Mayo Clinic defines heatstroke as a condition caused when the body overheats due to prolonged exposure or extreme physical exertion. Put simply, a person’s body temperature rises to a dangerous level if they are exposed to extreme heat like a hot summer day. The likelihood of heatstroke is even higher when a person exercises in this overheated atmosphere.
Symptoms of heatstroke include:
- Altered mental state or confusion
- Hot, dry skin
- Clammy skin
- Slurring words
- Flushed skin
- Rapid breathing
A child on the verge of heatstroke may exhibit one or more of these symptoms. Heatstroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate first aid.
Is Dehydration the Same Thing as Heatstroke?
Dehydration and heatstroke are both heat-related illnesses, but not the same thing. Dehydration may be a precursor to heatstroke, however. Dehydration means the amount of water lost is exceeding the amount of water taken in. Sweating is the body’s natural defense against overheating, but fluids need to be replaced. Excessive sweating means the body temperature is rising.
Allowing a child to become dehydrated interferes with this natural process, and increases the risk of heatstroke.
First Aid for Heatstroke
When a child succumbs to heatstroke the priority is to get help and then work to reduce his or her body temperature.
- Call or ask someone to call 911
- Move the child indoors or to a shaded area.
- Remove any excess layers of clothing.
- If possible, place the child in a cool tub of water or under a shower. If outdoors, look for a garden hose or splash cool water on them to help cool the child down
Splash water primarily on the places that get warmest; the back of the neck, top of the head, armpits and groin. Water will run down across other areas, like the torso. Dip a shirt or towel in water and wrap it around the head. Continue to cool the child until help arrives.
An Ounce of Prevention
The phrase “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is applicable when it comes to heatstroke. To avoid the above emergency scenario, the best way to protect a child against a heat-related illness is to take precautions.
- Require frequent breaks in a cool area. Ideally, this will be an air-conditioned space, but even a heavily shaded spot will help.
- Make sure your child (or a child on your team) drinks plenty of water. Avoiding dehydration means less risk of heatstroke. Complement the water with some cold foods, like popsicles.
- Schedule an indoor break or quiet time; maybe a session of sports-related learning
- Watch for signs that body temperature is rising, like flushed skin or excess sweating. This means it is time for a cool break.
- Dress your child in light colored, loose fitting clothes.
- Schedule your playtime during the cooler parts of the day like early morning or evening.
Parents of kids with a chronic illness or who take medication should discuss with a pediatrician about playing outside in heat. Some drugs can make your child more sensitive to heat and sun.
Start each summer season off by getting your kids acclimated to the sun. Limit their time outdoors and give them light, cooling attire during the first few days to allow their body to adjust to the change in weather.
About Children and Cars
Each year, the media carries the sad news of young children left in cars. Kids and Cars.org reports 38 children die each year this way. Children should never be left unattended in a car for any reason.
Most child heat-related deaths in cars are accidental; however there are ways parents can condition their minds to avoid this type of accident.
- Place something essential next to the child. This could be a briefcase, purse or cellphone. Make it something you always check to make sure you have before leaving the car.
- Develop the “look before you lock” habit. By manually locking your cars doors, you are forced to look in the back seat before you leave. Another trick is to always open the back car door before using the fob to lock up. If you do this often enough, it will become a habit.
- Sometimes deaths occur because children crawl into a parked car when they are playing. Parents should always lock their cars even when parked in the driveway or garage. Avoid leaving your keys where a child can reach them, too. The car is a tempting place to hide during a game of hide and seek.
- Provide your child with a keep cool towel so they don’t overheat while the car begins to cool down.
Summer fun is something you don’t want your kids to miss. Parents who educate themselves about the dangers of heat-related illnesses are in the best position to offer that ounce of prevention and keep their kids safe enough to enjoy the sunshine rather than suffer from it.