Summer’s here! While it is typically a time for fun and frolic, the increasing heat and humidity can be harmful, especially for kids. Children are more susceptible to dangerous heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke.

A child’s thermoregulatory system is not as efficient as an adult’s. That means their body’s cooling mechanisms get overwhelmed more quickly. A young child’s body temperature increases three to five times faster than an adult’s and they may not realize what is happening. A child may also have difficulty communicating how they feel.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is the most serious of the heat-related illnesses. It occurs when the body’s cooling mechanisms get overwhelmed and fail. Sweating stops and the body temperature rises. A body temperature of more than 104 degrees is one telltale sign of heat stroke.

Symptoms of heat stroke

Some early symptoms of heat-related illness to watch for include:

  • increased thirst
  • weakness and extreme tiredness
  • fainting
  • muscle cramps
  • nausea and vomiting
  • irritability
  • headache
  • increased sweating

If you see any of these symptoms, take action to prevent progression to heat stroke.

Tips for keeping cool 

While extreme cases that cause fainting or seizures require emergency assistance, there are steps parents and caregivers can take regularly to help ward off the dangers of extreme heat.

How to keep cool indoors

Many older homes do not have air-conditioning, and it is possible to experience heat-related illness while indoors.

  • Open windows and use fans to increase air circulation.
  • Stay downstairs, where it’s often cooler.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • If needed, go to a public place that is air-conditioned, such as a shopping mall or movie theater, or check to see if there is a cooling center in your city or town.

How to keep cool outdoors

Keep kids safe and cool while they enjoy the great outdoors during the long summer days.

  • Children should take frequent breaks from play or sport to recuperate in the shade.
  • Children should drink water even before going outside, especially if playing sports.
  • Wear light-colored clothing and even a hat.

Never leave children in a car 

Hot cars can be especially dangerous. Each year we see stories in the news about deaths of children in hot cars, and it can happen to anyone. Sometimes a parent might forget a child is in the car, especially if their routine has changed. Others anticipate running in and out of a store in just minutes and hate to wake a sleeping child.

It doesn't take long to get heat stroke in a car

Cars heat up very quickly. The internal temperature can rise as much as 20 degrees every 10 minutes even on a cool, cloudy day. Kids have died from vehicular heat stroke when the outside temperature was as low as 57 degrees.

How to prevent heat stroke or death in a car

To prevent heat-related illness or death in a car, remember to ACT

Avoid heat stroke by never leaving a child in a car.

Create reminders to remember your child is in the car:

  • Leave a stuffed animal in the car seat and take it up front when the child is buckled into the seat to help remind you.
  • Put something you wouldn't leave the car without – i.e., a cell phone or briefcase – in the back seat so you’ll see the child while retrieving it.
  • Ask your day care provider to call you if your child does not arrive by a designated time.

Take action. If you see an unaccompanied child left in a vehicle, call 9-1-1. Do something – don’t assume it’s okay. You could be saving that child’s life.

For more information on ways to keep your kids safe, visit our Injury Prevention Center website or the Growing section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

Injury Prevention Center

The Injury Prevention Center at Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children's Hospital has been active in reducing and preventing injury for more than 20 years in our community.