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Heat Illness In Children: What Parents Should Know

While we may be approaching winter and not necessarily thinking much about heat, as the weather gets warmer every year, we inevitably hear about the horrible effects of heat-related illnesses and particularly those effects on children.

For example, an average of 37 times a year, a child dies of heatstroke in a vehicle. 

What many parents might not realize when it comes to so-called hot car deaths is that it doesn’t even have to be summer for these to occur.

For example, during a day when it’s only 60 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can rise to 110 degrees. Children can’t control their body temperatures in the same ways as an adult, and as a result, they heat up anywhere from three to five times faster. 

Beyond vehicular heatstroke facts, what else should parents know about heat-related illnesses in children? The following are key facts that could be valuable for any parent to be aware of. 

What Is a Heat Illness?

Heat illness can be used to describe specific symptoms, but sometimes it’s also used as a blanket term to describe any symptoms related to excessive heat. Heat illness can include heat cramps, heatstroke or heat exhaustion.

  • Heat cramps cause painful cramping in the stomach or extremities and typically occur when doing intense exercise when it’s very hot. If a child were playing sports in the heat, for example, it could cause their body to lose fluids and salt, which contributes to muscle cramping. 
  • Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramping, and it occurs when a child or anyone is in the heat and they don’t have enough liquids. Symptoms can include weakness, dizziness, fainting, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and a raised body temperature. 
  • A heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency. When someone experiences a heatstroke, their body can’t regulate its temperature, and it can quickly go above 106 degrees Fahrenheit or even higher. If a child experiences a heatstroke and they don’t receive emergency medical care, it can lead to brain damage. 

Symptoms of Heat Illnesses in Children

The specific symptoms of heat illness in a child may depend on which illness it is. 

With heat cramps, the cramps themselves are the symptom, but these cramps can also be a sign of a more serious heat illness that could occur. 

Symptoms of heat illness were detailed above but can also include headache, increased thirst, irritability, and cool, clammy skin. 

Symptoms of heatstroke include a severe headache, dizziness, confusion, rapid heartbeat, no sweating, or loss of consciousness. 

In babies, symptoms of heatstroke can include rapid breathing, vomiting, irritability, and lethargy. Restlessness can also be a sign of heatstroke in a baby. 

How Can You Prevent Heat Illness?

If your children are playing outside on a hot day, prevention is the best course of action when it comes to heat illnesses. Kids should wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothes and drink a lot of liquids before, during, and after their playtime. Kids should also take plenty of breaks during their playtime in the shade or indoors. 

If you notice any signs of heat-related illness in your child, you should give them clear liquids and monitor them to see if symptoms get any worse and may require medical attention. 

What About Vehicular Heatstroke?

Vehicular heatstroke was touched on above, and leaving a child alone in a vehicle is one of the most dangerous and deadly things that can happen. 

Even in a car with the windows cracked, the internal temperature can quickly reach 125 degrees in a matter of minutes. 80% of the increases in temperature in a vehicle occur within the first 10 minutes. 

While so many parents say they could never forget their child in the car, in reality, it is an accident that can and does happen. 

Parents should be aware of the risk and should have proactive plans in place to help them avoid this situation. For example, parents should never leave their children in cars for even a minute, and before getting out of the car they should always check the backseat. Sometimes professionals recommend parents place something in the backseat they need like their handbag so they’ll reach back there because if a child is in rear-facing car seat you can’t see whether they’re in it or not from the front seat. 

Heat-related illnesses are serious and something that can potentially affect every parent. Being aware can help you avoid a terrible situation. 

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