Heat-related illness in children

I think I may be going through early menopause, either that or I drank too much champagne last night. Either way, the forecast here in the Northeast has me breaking out in a sweat and it is only 9am. The predicted high for the day is something usually reserved for equatorial climates. The humidity is going to make the air feel like pea soup. I am already anticipating lots of whining and crying – and my kids aren’t going to be happy either. Normally, I like to force them out onto the street as early as possible but today may be a day for some indoor fun. Who knows? Maybe I can even get them to pick up a book. As an aside, my kids aren’t loving to read this summer. It is like a knife in my heart. If I didn’t have the battle scars from four pregnancies, I would question their maternity. I have Lifetime. Babies get switched in the hospital all the time, don’t they?

1. Who is susceptible to Heat Illness? Children under the age of 4 and adults over the age of 65 are at most risk of becoming ill from the heat. Obesity, certain medications, some chronic illnesses and being overdressed all further increase the risk. Today, I’m focusing on kids but the idea is pretty much the same for seniors.

2. Why are kids more susceptible? Two reasons – their age and their stupidity. There are self-cooling mechanisms your body turns on when it gets hot. The cooling system in children, especially babies, is immature, leaving them more vulnerable to the heat. They produce more heat and sweat less. Secondly, they don’t know when they need to stop running around, drink some water or get inside.

3. What happens as your body heats up? There is a spectrum of heat-related illness. The most mild form is heat cramps. These painful muscle cramps and spasms often occur first. Next, heat exhaustion occurs. As the body loses water and salt, nausea, vomiting, weakness, headache and a low-grade fever may occur. If left untreated, heat stroke follows. The symptoms include all of the above plus dry skin, a high fever, confusion and sleepiness. Seizures, coma and death can occur in severe cases.

4. How to treat heat-related illness. In its early stages, moving children to a cool place and giving them fluids should do the trick. Sports drinks and Pedialyte pops can be helpful in replacing fluid loss. Gently massage and stretch the muscles that are cramping. Ice packs, especially in the armpits and groin area can help to decrease body temperature – that sounds good, I may try it as soon as I finish writing. If you see no improvement and you are fairly sure they are not just enjoying all the attention, call your doctor or go to the ER. Fluid replacement via IV may be needed. If you are seeing the more severe signs mentioned above, don’t delay – call 911.

5. Prevention – Have I thoroughly ruined your day? Please don’t feel like you have to watch your kids like a hawk or entertain them inside all day. The best way to deal with the heat-illness is to not let it happen in the first place. If your children are old enough, take a minute to educate them about signs and symptoms of overheating. Demand that they stop playing every 1/2 hour or so and drink some water. Offer them things they like throughout the day. Watermelon, ice pops, fruit-flavored water and Gatorade should entice them. I just had my first strawberry water and it was delicious – the kids loved it. If your children are too young to recognize the symptoms, keep them in the shade, and sorry, you have to check on them every once in a while. Days like today are long but it is Friday. There should be a nice cool beverage to reward you for your efforts. Hey, grown-ups need hydration too.

In reviewing information for this entry, I came across an interesting article explaining why humidity actually does make you feel hotter. All this time, I just thought people enjoyed complaining when they said, “It’s 98 degrees but the humidity makes it feel like 110.” Turns out, I’m not as smart as my kids think I am.

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