We’ve had a scorcher of a summer. According to a major climate report released by the United Nations earlier this month, the planet has hit record high temperatures, and this summer’s extreme heat will only become more common in the future. In addition to the elderly, those of us with a young family are especially vulnerable to the heat.
Dr. Samuel Schimelpfenig, a pediatrician in Sioux Falls, South Dakota who specializes in sports medicine for children and adolescents, says keeping your children inside isn’t the answer. Being outdoors in nature is healthy for our physical and mental well-being, he says. It is less likely that the kids will get heat illness inside, but the downside is that they will spend a lot of time on a screen and won’t be physically active.”
Here are a few things you need to know if your kid will be playing in the heat:
Children are more likely to get heat stroke than adults
The body does a great job regulating its own temperature (thanks to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus gland), but extreme heat can disrupt this process and cause sweat to accumulate instead of evaporating. Schimelpfenig says the overheating can lead to heatstroke, which is usually accompanied by at least one of three telltale signs: unconsciousness, a fever, and a lack of sweat.
The risk of injury to a child is greater than that of an adult due to their smaller bodies. Schimelpfenig explains that the animals absorb heat much quicker than humans. You would do it differently if you were roasting a whole turkey as opposed to a chicken breast. In comparison, a chicken breast may take less than 30 minutes to cook in the oven for a smaller turkey. Especially susceptible to heat conditions may be young athletes who have disabilities or medical diagnoses, as well as athletes who are taking medications that increase heat sensitivity.
Identifying early warning signs is important
It is essential that coaches, parents, and caregivers recognize milder heat illnesses and treat them right away. A simple act of bringing a child inside, providing them with a cold drink, and allowing them to rest can make all the difference. You may miss something much more dangerous if you ignore the early warning signs. Some children are dehydrated and require IV fluids in the emergency room, says Schimelpfenig.
Check out these things:
- Is your kid becoming increasingly lethargic after running around like normal?
- Is it harder than usual for them to breathe? Do they have a flushed face?
- Teenagers may sweat excessively as they get older, or they may not sweat at all. Babies and toddlers don’t sweat much (typically less than three months old).
- Pain or nausea: Is there a headache, nausea, or dizziness?
The symptoms of heat illness take on an extreme form when they are severe. You should seek immediate medical attention if your child has thrown up or has passed out.
If you are going outside, make sure you have a plan to cool off
Kids may not be in shape or are not accustomed to dealing with heat after an interrupted year of activity. In an environment that is hot, someone who works hard will also generate heat internally. “Saunas are extremely hot and exhausting, which makes it difficult to work out in one for very long.”
To maintain body temperature and keep kids happy, plan extra water breaks, provide shade (parents might bring along small tents or umbrellas on outdoor excursions), and remember to remove your child’s bike helmet while resting—it’s one more way for the body’s heat to escape. Other ways to cool off include eating a chilled snack (bonus points for snacks that have lots of hydration, like chilled fruit), jumping in a sprinkler or going to the splash pad (although Schimpelfenig says water cools you better inside your body than outside), or starting your day early (early morning is better than high noon).
Children can be empowered to seek help if they feel the onset of heat illness symptoms by teaching them to regularly assess their body’s symptoms. In addition to gear to help kids, parents can think about lighting, breathable clothing, moisture-wicking athletic wear, water bottles, and snacks containing electrolytes.
There are times when staying inside is the right call
Last but not least, stomping out the myth that canceling some activities due to heat is a failure is critical. Getting changed from their planned activities is often the result of a high heat index, says Schimelpfenig. Recent Olympic Games in Tokyo saw the gold medal women’s soccer match moved due to temperatures, and the women’s marathon was moved up an hour to mitigate the effects of extreme heat. It may be better to engage in indoor activities in those circumstances.