A few years ago, my family moved to southern Nevada for my husband’s grad program. We moved in the early summer months, right as daily temperatures were approaching triple digits. Our car had no AC, and we were now living in a city that experienced extreme heat waves for more than half of the year. We quickly learned of the realities and dangers of excessive heat, especially for young children. Whether your local temperatures soar over 100° F on a daily basis or they remain in the mid-80’s, it’s important to be educated on ways to protect your kids from heat-related injuries during these summer months!
Types of Heat-Related Injuries
The hypothalamus is the portion of the brain that helps a person regulate their body temperature. For adults with fully developed brains, our bodies are able to adjust more rapidly to changes in temperature. Young kids, on the other hand, have brains that are still developing. As a result, mechanisms such as body regulation are inefficient. In the cold months they lose heat quickly, while overheating at fast rates during the summer!
Overheating can lead to several different injuries in children, such as heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. All of these can be caused by exertion (exercise/playtime) or from simply being in a hot, enclosed environment, like a car, for too long. No matter the cause, being able to identify symptoms of each of these heat-related injuries early on is essential.
Heat Cramps: This is normally the least severe of heat related injuries. Your child may start to get flushed or experience cramping or spasming in the legs, but it can also occur in other muscles throughout the body.
Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps. Symptoms often include headaches, clammy skin, nausea, muscle cramps, extreme thirst, irritability, dizziness, increased sweating, and a rise in internal body temperature. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, you need to treat them immediately before it turns into heat stroke. Cool them down with a cold compress and remove them from the hot environment, offer them a drink, and massage their muscles.
Heat Stroke: The most severe heat-related injury is heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when your child’s body is trapping heat that it cannot effectively release. As a result, their internal body temperature continues to rise. If left untreated, brain damage or death can occur. Symptoms often include loss of consciousness, high body temperatures (over 103° F), nausea or vomiting, rapid heart rate, fast breathing, seizures, weakness, confusion, and hot, dry skin. If you think your child is experiencing heat stroke, you need to act immediately, as this is a medical emergency. Call 911, bring them indoors, remove any clothing, and give them a cold bath or shower. If you are not home, use cold water and towels to cool down the body as much as possible while you wait for help to arrive.
Heat Rash: Heat rash is another common injury in the summertime. When a child gets overheated, sweat glands are activated. If a duct is inflamed or blocked, the sweat gets trapped under the skin. Little red blisters or bumps can form across the surface of the skin. If this occurs, try not to worry, as it will go away on its own. You can take a cool shower and stay in a cool environment to help aid in the recovery.
Similar to overheating, kids can become dehydrated very quickly. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as fewer bathroom breaks or wet diapers, dry lips, and fatigue. If your child is severely dehydrated, contact your doctor. Most often, you will give your child something like Pedialyte. In extreme cases, you may need to go to the emergency room for IV fluids.