Keeping Kids Cool and Safe This Summer

Dina Burstein, MD, MPH, CPSTI, FAAP

Summer’s here! While it is typically a time for fun and frolic, the increasing heat and humidity can be harmful, especially for kids. They 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.

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.

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 such as fainting, or seizures require emergency assistance, there are steps parents and caregivers can take day-to-day to help ward off the dangers of extreme heat. When indoors:

  • Open windows and use fans to increase air circulation.
  • Stay downstairs, where it’s often cooler.
  • Have plenty to drink.
  • If needed, go to a public place that is air-conditioned, such as a shopping mall.

When outdoors, it’s recommended kids take frequent breaks from play or sport to recuperate in the shade. Children should drink water even before going outside, especially if playing sports, and wear light-colored clothing and even a hat.

Use extreme caution in the car

Hot cars can be especially dangerous. Last year was the worst on record for hot-car deaths among kids, 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.

However, 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.

Remember to ACT

To prevent vehicular heat stroke, please 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.
  • 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 OK. You could be saving that child’s life.

For more information on ways to keep your kids safe, visit our Injury Prevention Center website.

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