Summer is officially here and many of us in south Louisiana are already beginning to swelter in the high temperatures. While the heat can be very uncomfortable, it can also be extremely dangerous as the risk of heat-related illness in children increases as the temperature rises.
Heat stress should be taken very seriously. When heat is combined with other stresses – such as physical activity, loss of fluids, or fatigue – it may lead to heat-related illness, disability, or even death. Young children and young athletes are at high risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion is the result of prolonged exposure to heat and insufficient body fluid. Symptoms can include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness headache and nausea or vomiting. If your child exhibits these symptoms, you should move them to a cool area and give them cool water as quickly as possible. You should also seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Normally, we cool down by sweating, but in extreme heat, the body can lose its ability to regulate temperature. The sweating function fails and body temperature rises rapidly, resulting in heat stroke which is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 if you suspect that your child is suffering a heat stroke. Until help arrives, move the child to a cool area, remove excess clothing and fan and spray them with cool water. Offer sips of water if the child is conscious.
What can be done to prevent heat-related illness in your child? The most important thing to do is to keep your child well hydrated. Water is crucial to helping the body adjust to high temperatures. In our humid climate, the body must work even harder to get rid of excess heat because perspiration cannot evaporate as readily under muggy conditions.
Other ways to protect your child from heat-related illness include:
• Avoid energy drinks and soda as these can lead to dehydration.
• Wear lightweight, tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing in light colors.
• Schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day.
• Take frequent water breaks during outdoor activities.
• Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
• Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get your child’s body used to the heat.
• Try to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.
Dr. Lois Gesn is a Pediatrician at Ochsner Health Center – Central. She can be contacted at 261-9790.