Heat Related Illness in Children

May 31, 2017 5:09 pm Published by

It’s so hot…  birds are using potholders to pull worms from the ground.

All joking aside, summer heat can cause serious health related problems. In the U.S. more than 300 people die each year from excessive heat exposure. That is more than all other causes of weather related deaths, including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Those most at risk include very young children, elderly adults and those with chronic medical illnesses or disability. 

Heat related illness can manifest in various ways depending on the degree of heat exposure and the ability of the body to cope with the heat. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are three common categories of heat illness.

Heat cramps typically occur in large leg muscles. A child with heat cramps should be moved to a cool environment and given a sports drink with salt and sugar to replace electrolytes. Stretch the affected muscle slowly until cramping resolves. The child generally should not return to strenuous play in the heat that day but rather rest and recover.

Heat exhaustion usually presents with body temperature higher than 100.4 F but below 104 F and additional symptoms such as drenching sweat, nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, weakness or faint feeling.  A child with heat exhaustion should be moved to a cool environment, placed in front of a fan or cool cloths applied, given a sports drink and monitored closely. If no improvement in symptoms or unable to drink fluids, the child should be taken to a local emergency department immediately. IV fluid hydration may be necessary.

Heat stroke usually presents with body temperature higher than 104F and hot, dry, flushed skin, rapid heart rate, nausea, vomiting and neurological symptoms of confusion, agitation and possibly seizure or coma. If heat stroke is suspected, seek medical care immediately or call 911 as heat stroke can be life threatening.  While awaiting further medical care, move the child to a cool location, remove clothing and drench skin with cool water. Ice packs can be placed in the armpits and groin. Place the child in front of a fan and offer cool fluids to drink if the child is alert.

It is important to remind parents and caretakers to never leave a child or infant in a closed parked car as inside temperatures can rise quickly to 150 degrees or higher. Tragically, numerous children have died in parked cars after being left unattended.

Prevention of heat related illness is critical. Best prevention measures include drinking plenty of fluids, resting frequently in shade and reporting symptoms of heat intolerance early. As a general rule of thumb, adequate oral hydration includes frequent urination with clear urine. A child one year of age should drink approximately 32 ounces of fluid each day, 5 years 48 ounces each day, 12 years and older 64 ounces each day. This volume may need to be increased depending on heat exposure and activity. Stay cool by wearing light, loose fitting clothing, resting often and stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible.  Fanning a child or using a cool mist sprayer can help keep their temperature down.

When the summer heat turns up, remember these tips and look out for those around you. Most heat related illness is entirely preventable. You could make the difference between life and death. How cool is that!

Branson Bolden, M.D.

Pediatrician at Magnolia Pediatric Clinic

This post was written by Magnolia Regional Health Center