High temperatures and extreme heat can cause children to become very sick, very quickly. Heat and sun can cause dehydration, sunburn, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke, which is a serious medical emergency that can be deadly. Throughout the summer, it is vital that you understand how to keep your children safe in the heat.
Tips to beat the heat and keep your children safe
- Stay hydrated: regardless of your child’s activity level, it is important to urge them to drink a lot of fluids, especially water. Dark urine can indicate dehydration.
- Keep cool: stay cool in an air conditioned place. During the heat of the day, stay inside and do indoor activities, if possible. Plan ahead for indoor activities that will keep your child entertained. If your child is outside in the sun during the heat of the day, try to urge them to stay in shaded areas.
- Never leave your child in a car: cars can rapidly reach extremely dangerous temperatures. Never leave your child in a parked car, even if the temperature doesn’t seem threatening.
- Dress lightly and wear sunscreen: dress your child in lightweight, breathable clothes. Cotton is a great option for summer as it is light and breezy. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen (with protection from both UVA and UVB sun rays) to protect your child from the heat and potential sun-related skin damage. Be sure to reapply often, and follow the directions on the bottle. Hats and umbrellas can also help reduce sun exposure and keep your child cool.
- Rest: rest more and rest often. Avoid strenuous activities in the heat of the day. When your child is active, be sure they take lots of breaks in the shade.
- Stay informed: be sure to keep abreast of the weather in your area, and watch for any heat advisories or warnings. Follow guidance from local authorities if there is a heat warning, advisory or watch.
It’s important to know what signs and symptoms to watch out for, to monitor for heat stress and heat-related illnesses. Children, especially young children, are not able to regulate their body temperature the same way as adults. Children aged 4 and under are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness, like heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the two most common heat-related illnesses to watch for.
Heat exhaustion is often a precursor to heat stroke. It can occur after a child has been playing in the heat and becomes dehydrated. It is important to treat heat exhaustion immediately, as it can develop into heat stroke, which is very dangerous.
Signs of heat exhaustion in children may include:
- An elevated body temperature, usually between 100˚ and 104˚ Fahrenheit
- Cool, clammy skin despite the heat
- Goose bumps
- Fainting, dizziness or weakness
- Increased sweating
- Increased thirst
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and/or vomiting
If your child is showing signs of heat exhaustion, you should:
- Bring your child to a cool, shaded place – ideally a location with air conditioning
- Encourage your child to drink cool fluids that contain salt (like sports drinks)
- Apply a cold wet towel or sponge to the skin
- Gently stretch or massage sore muscles if your child complains of painful muscle cramps
If your child is unable to drink or seems to be losing alertness, call your doctor or seek medical attention immediately.
Heat stroke occurs when your child's body creates more heat than it can release. This results in a rapid increase in core body temperature— above 104˚ Fahrenheit, which can lead to brain damage or death if not treated immediately.
Signs of heat stroke in children may include:
- A body temperature that rises dangerously high – above 104˚ Fahrenheit
- Absence of sweating
- Confusion, disorientation
- Flushed, hot and dry skin (skin may be wet)
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing
- Severe headache
- Weakness and/or dizziness
Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If your child is showing signs of heat stroke, call 9-11 immediately.
Extreme heat weather terms to know
Excessive heat WATCH: conditions are favorable for an event to meet or exceed local excessive heat warning criteria in the next 12 to 48 hours.
Excessive heat WARNING: heat values are forecast to meet or exceed locally defined warning criteria for at least two days.
Excessive heat ADVISORY: hazardous heat conditions have begun or will begin within 36 hours and, if caution is not exercised, they could become life-threatening.
The National Weather Service issues alerts for excessive heat on a county-by-county basis. The alerts are broadcast on NOAA Weather Radio and on local radio and television stations. The conditions for an excessive heat watch, warning, and advisory may vary by location.
Be mindful this summer
This summer, be mindful of how the heat can affect your children. Be sure to rest frequently, drink lots of fluids, stay in cool areas, and avoid being outside during the heat of the day. If your community is experiencing extreme heat, follow the guidance of local authorities.