Parenting: Kids and Heat Exhaustion

Fun in the sun should come with a dose of caution, when the weather's hot and humid.

David Murphy says it's important to keep kids safe from extreme heat and humidity.
June 8, 2011 7:11:13 AM PDT
David Murphy says it's important to keep kids safe from extreme heat and humidity.

Whenever the weather turns miserably hot and humid, you hear me telling a familiar story during my Action News weathercasts: use caution, especially when it comes to young kids and the elderly. In both cases, becoming acclimated to extreme temperature changes can be difficult and can more easily lead to health problems.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the problem with kids is twofold. First, some kids may not be able to regulate heat as well. Second, most kids are more often involved in strenuous outdoor activity than the average person, no matter what the weather. Both you and your children should be aware of the inherent danger in over-doing it in hot weather, as well as how to avoid trouble.

The AAP has an online summer tip sheet that covers everything from sunburn (the subject of next week's parenting blog) to heat exhaustion. This week, I'm focusing on a few simple and obvious pieces of advice contained therein, with the aim being making you and your children better prepared for the ups and downs of the summer season.

First of all, intense activities should be reduced. If an activity like sports lasts for more than about 15 minutes without a break, your kids may be pushing it. This is true whether the local weather turns summery, or whether you've suddenly travelled to a warmer, more humid climate. In both instances, the AAP says you and your kids should be gradually eased into the new environment, with limited exercise at first, before easing toward more involved activity. This takes time. In fact, your kids won't have time to fully acclimate during most vacations, as the total time to get used to hotter, more humid weather is typically 7 to 14 days.

When physical play begins, your kids should be well-hydrated and not thirsty at the outset. Soda doesn't count. Make sure they have plenty of water, juice, or a sports drink designed to replenish electrolytes before they begin. These drinks should be in ample supply as the activity continues, too. It's recommended that kids stop what they're doing for a water break every 20 minutes when it's hot and humid. After an hour of exercise, a longer break is important. Sports drinks should be downed at this point, in healthy, liberal quantities.

Kids should wear light-colored, light-weight clothing in the heat, which seems obvious. But you might also encourage them to bring a second, dry shirt, and to change into it when the first one gets soaked with sweat. Wearing a wet shirt in the heat discourages additional sweating, and it's important to sweat freely when being active on a hot day. Otherwise, the body can overheat. And by the way, one shirt is advised. Layers are not a good idea, even if your child has a really cool sports jersey he or she wants to wear over their t-shirt. Save the jersey for a cooler, less humid day.

Finally, if a child feels excessively hot or fatigued, it's time to end the game and move to a cooler environment. A woozy, dizzy feeling is a sign of heat exhaustion. So is heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, or nausea. For a more complete explanation of heat exhaustion from, click here. Your kids should know these symptoms in advance, and have clear instructions to drink fluids, rest, and get themselves into the air-conditioning for the rest of the day, if these sorts of warning signs arise.

Physical activity in the heat is not impossible. The Phillies do it all the time. But have your kids take a page out of Phil's book and keep plenty of sports drinks on hand as they play. Wear the right clothing, and take breaks. If they feel unwell, tell them to act like a pro and take themselves out of the game.

---David Murphy

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