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Child sweating in the heat with a bottle of water

Tips to Prevent Heat-Related Illness in Kids

The next few days will be scorchers in Hampton Roads, and the National Weather Service has issued a severe heat advisory for our region that will extend through Sunday.

A heat index of 90 degrees or higher, especially with high humidity, can pose serious health risks for children. These weather conditions are most common in July and August. Here are some tips to protect children from heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

To prevent heat-related illnesses:

  • Try to limit your outdoor activity to when it’s coolest, like morning and evening hours. Rest often in shady areas. Encourage your child to take indoor breaks when playing outside.
  • Stay cool in an air-conditioned place as much as possible during the warmest part of the day. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
  • Teach your child to drink plenty of fluids before and during any activity in the heat – even if they’re not thirsty. Stay away from really cold drinks or drinks with too much sugar.
  • Make sure your child wears light-colored, loose clothing when playing outside. And don’t forget the sunscreen. Sunburn affects the body’s ability to cool down and can cause children to become dehydrated.
  • Never leave infants or children in a parked car, even if the windows are open. Even when it feels cool outside, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. Children left unattended in parked cars are at greatest risk for heat stroke, and possibly death.

What’s the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body temperature increases and you’re not able to cool yourself down quickly enough. Dehydration from sweating and not staying well hydrated can contribute to the risk of heat exhaustion. If not treated, heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke – a form of heat illness that can be fatal.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Increased thirst.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Heavy sweating.
  • Headache.
  • Irritability.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Cold, pale, clammy skin.

If your child is showing signs of heat exhaustion, take them to a cool place to rest, give them sips of water, and loosen or remove excess clothing. Using a fan or placing a cold, damp cloth on the skin can also help.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Severe headache.
  • No longer sweating.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Rapid breathing or heartbeat.
  • Confusion
  • Weakness and/or dizziness.
  • Flushed, hot, dry skin.
  • Body temperature of 103 degrees or higher.

If your child is showing symptoms of heat stroke, seek emergency medical help immediately. As you wait for help to arrive, bring your child to a cool place. You can help lower your child’s temperature with cool, wet cloths or a cool bath. 

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