Staying cool and playing safe in the heat

  • Published
  • By Capt. (Dr.) Kristen Bruno
  • 97th Medical Group Pediatric Physician
Children adjust more slowly to changes in the environment, produce more heat with activity and sweat less than adults. Children are generally preoccupied with playing and having fun and as a result do not think to rest and drink fluids which interrupt their play. These characteristics make children at high risk for heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stress as well as common hot weather ailments such as dehydration and sunburns.

Early signs of heat-related illness are leg cramps and flushed skin which are typical of heat cramps and respond to rest in a cool place and cool sports drinks. The most serious signs of heat-related illness are confusion, headache, dizziness, fatigue, hot and dry skin and high fever more than 104, which are typical of heat stroke.

Heat stroke is life threatening and requires immediate medical attention. You should move your child to a cool place to rest, remove excess clothing and drench skin with cool water, offer cool fluids and seek immediate medical attention if your child has any of these signs.

Dehydration is also a common occurrence when children are playing for long periods of time in hot weather. Some signs of dehydration include dry, cracked lips, sunken eyes, sleepiness, fatigue and decreased voiding. If you are concerned about your child being dehydrated you should move them to a cool area, offer water and seek medical attention. 

Sunburns are a common problem when children are playing outside in warm weather whether the sun seems hot or not. Many sunburns occur on cloudy days as well. To prevent sunburns as well as all other heat related illnesses, we recommend the following approach when spending a day with your children in the hot sun:

1. Cover up. Infants and children should wear hats. Infants, in particular should be dressed in lightweight, long sleeve clothing when out in the heat or sun. Keep infants in the shade.
2. Apply sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 to children (higher for infants) and reapply frequently.
3. Have children rest in a cool area for 5 minutes for every 30 minutes they are playing in the sun and make sure they drink water during these rest breaks.
4. Watch for early signs of heat stress and intervene early with fluids, rest and shade.
5. Try to avoid giving children sugary drinks such as juices and sodas as they can slow down the absorption of water. Water is best. Sports drinks are used for heat cramps.
6. Keep in mind that children do not stop play to rest, cool down or drink water unless asked to. Their priority is having fun in the sun. Your priority is keeping them safe in the sun.