By Angela Odom-Austin, MD
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, or so the saying goes. Parents may feel that the same could be said of their children who, red-faced and thirsty after playing in summer heat, just don’t drink enough to keep properly hydrated.
Children overheat more quickly than adults because their core temperature rises faster and they sweat less. When children exert themselves and lose too much water, it puts them in danger of dehydration, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. It may even lead to heat stroke, which can be life-threatening.
To prevent children from overheating, make sure they drink plenty of water. Water is the best beverage to quench thirst and replenish fluid because it’s non-caloric and sugar- and caffeine-free (and if it’s from the tap, it’s also free!).
Some children, however, just “don’t like the taste” of water, especially if they regularly enjoy flavored “fitness” waters or sports drinks, such as Gatorade. Some studies have suggested that children who don’t generally drink enough plain water to hydrate themselves will drink more of a flavored beverage, thereby increasing their liquid intake and preventing dehydration. Just be careful that they are not getting too much sugar, which can negate the benefits of the beverage.
Don’t wait until your child is thirsty to push the beverages. Make sure your little athletes are well-hydrated before, during and after physical activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that when exercising in the heat, a child weighing 88 pounds should drink 5 ounces of cold tap water or a flavored sports drink every 20 minutes and a child weighing 132 pounds should drink 9 ounces – even if the child does not feel thirsty.
What to watch out for
Heat cramps are severe cramps in the legs, arms and abdomen. While they aren’t serious, they do indicate that your child needs to rest in a cool place with a cold glass of water to drink until he feels better.
The symptoms of heat exhaustion are cold, pale skin plus sweating, dizziness, faintness and weakness. If a child has these symptoms, get him to lie down in a cool place with his feet raised, give him water to drink and call your pediatrician for advice.
The symptoms of heatstroke are hot, flushed skin, high fever (at least 105 degrees), lack of sweat, and delirium or loss of consciousness. If your child shows symptoms of heatstroke, call 911 immediately. Try to cool the child as rapidly as possible while you wait for help to arrive. If the child is conscious, give him water to drink and put him in a cool bath or shower. If the child is unconscious, hold him up in a cool bath or shower.
Dr. Odom-Austin is an independent practitioner with Pediatrics at the Hamptons.