Preventing Heat-Related Illness

The summer is coming to an end, and along with the start of the school year comes the beginning of the scholastic and community sports leagues.  The organized sports that children are a part of are invaluable in building skills needed for the rest of their lives, not to mention the important health benefits offered by daily exercise.   However, it is imperative to discuss with the league officials, coaches, and your child the risks and dangers of heat-related illnesses during indoor and outdoor activities.

Each year, thousands of children are treated in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices for heat-related illnesses.  The vast majority of these could have been prevented had the proper measures been in place.

Sweating is the body’s way to lower its core temperature when it is overheated.

Did know that children have a lower sweating capacity than adults?  This means that children can get overheated quicker while performing the same activities as an adult.

Two common terms regarding heat-related illness are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can occur at any body temperature between 98.6 degrees and 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The symptoms associated with heat exhaustion are:

  • nausea
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • thirst
  • weakness
  • confusion
  • vomiting

Your child does not need to have all of these present in order to have heat exhaustion, nor does it mean they have heat exhaustion if these symptoms are present. However, these are symptoms to watch for while they are engaged in physical activities whether indoors or outdoors.

The treatment for this condition is to first move the child to a shady and cool environment and give adequate hydration.

The liquid of choice for rehydration is WATER!

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat-related illness, occurring when the core body temperature is above 104 degrees Fahrenheit and there are associated neurologic symptoms.  Heat stroke is divided into two categories:  exertional and classic.  Symptoms of heat stroke can include the same as for heat exhaustion plus delirium (altered mental status).  Consequences of heat stroke can include liver or kidney failure, irregular heartbeat, coma, or death.

Children suffering from heat stroke need emergency evaluation and treatment by professionals.

The classic form of heat stroke occurs in non-active individuals, commonly the elderly and very young children. Classic heat stroke is often the cause of death for children accidentally left in cars

Exertional heat stroke is associated with a rapid increase in body temperature which is the result of participating in strenuous physical activity, most commonly in a hot environment.

Prevention

The best way to prevent heat stroke is to HYDRATE!

Recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Professional Medical Societies are to drink 1 cup of fluid every 20-30 minutes during activity.

The best way to rehydrate is with plain water

Avoid drinks with caffeine, carbonation, or high amounts of sugar, as these can worsen heat-related illnesses.

Children participating in athletic events should avoid prolonged heat exposure, especially during the hottest times of the day (10am – 4pm).  It is also recommended to wear loose fitting, light colored clothing while participating.

Talk with your child’s league officials and coaches to ensure that personnel trained in prevention and treatment of heat-related illnesses are supervising practices and games.

Ensure that children are given frequent water breaks and encourage them to drink water even if they are not thirsty during the break.

Final Heat Tips

  • Medication can contribute to heat-related illness.  Talk with your pediatrician to see if any medication your child is taking may increase their risk for heat-related illness.
  • Injuries, even mild ones, can be worsened by increases in temperature – all injuries should be healed prior to returning to practices or competition.
  • Medications which are used to reduce fever do NOT help in cases of heat exhaustion or heat stroke and can actually worsen the condition.

For specific health questions or more information on heat-related illness, please consult with your child’s physician.