Summer is officially here and temperatures across the nation are soaring. Although the heat wave is welcomed by many after a cold winter, the increase in temperature is especially dangerous for children, who are more likely to sustain a heat-injury than adults.

Jerold Stirling, chair of the department of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and pediatrician at Loyola University Health System, explained:

“Kids bodies don’t acclimate to the heat as well as adults. They don’t sweat as effectively. They absorb more heat since they have smaller bodies and a higher ratio of surface area to body mass.”

According to Stirling, it is vital that children, no matter how old they are or where they are, are supervised when the temperatures reach these extreme levels. He explains that one of the greatest dangers is leaving a child in a car unattended on a hot day.

Stirling said:

“No matter the child’s age this can be dangerous or even deadly. Even if it’s for a short period of time and you leave the car windows down it’s dangerous. Inside the car can be several degrees hotter than outside and places a child at greater risk for heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

Kids are supposed to be out having fun. They can get wrapped up in what they are doing and forget to take breaks. They’re also not as tuned in to their body’s cues.”

Although it is vital that parents encourage their children to remain physically active, they need to ensure that their kids are well hydrated prior to going outside to play, and make sure that they drink water frequently and take cooling-off breaks.

Stirling explained “Parents need to encourage their kids to take breaks every so often by coming inside or resting in the shade. For every 20 minutes of vigorous exercise make sure your child is drinking 8 ounces of water.”

Taking breaks to rehydrate are vital even when in the swimming pool, he explains.

Stirling said:

“The cold pool water will help keep your body cool, but it doesn’t replace the fluids that have been lost due to the heat. Make sure your kids are getting out of the pool to drink water and add an extra layer of sunscreen on at the same time.”

Sports drinks are only required if a child engages in vigorous exercise for more than 60 minutes. Water is the best drink. Parents need to be careful with what their kids drink to rehydrate. Sodas contain the three “Cs” – calories, caffeine and carbonations – not the best combination for rehydration.
“Be careful what your child drinks to rehydrate. Usually, water is the best option. Be sure to stay away from sofa which contains the three Cs: carbonation, caffeine and calories. This is not a good combination of hydration.”

The most common signs of heat exhaustion are:

Parents should monitor urine output for infants and young children. Dark yellow urine usually indicates that the child is dehydrated.

Stirling noted:

“Another common concern for parents of infants is a skin rash called prickly heat. This happens when pores get blocked by perspiration on the skin and cause an uncomfortable rash. Though it looks bad, the best thing to do is keep the baby’s skin dry so the perspiration can evaporate more easily and make sure to keep the baby in lightweight clothing.”

Lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing are vital for keeping children of all ages cooler. “What clothes your kids wear really do make a difference,” he explained.

The following steps should be taken if you suspect a child has a heat-related illness:

  • Make sure the child is drinking cold water
  • Take the child into a shaded area out of the sun
  • Place cool towels on the skin
  • Give the child a sports drink, if needed
  • Get the child to sit down with legs elevated over the level of his or her heart
  • Call 911 and seek medical attention if symptoms persist

During heat stroke, the person’s temperature can rise to 104 degrees – it is a medical emergency. An altered level of consciousness may also be a sign of heat stroke – get medical help straight away.

Written by Grace Rattue