Heatwave Scare - How to keep your child safe during hot weather?
Any mention of summer, for most of us, tends to conjure images of carefree fun, long balmy days and kicking back on the beach. Parents of little children however, dread the inevitable bouts of illness and exhaustion that children fall prey to when mercury levels rise. Rest assured, it is not just children that are vulnerable to high levels of heat and humidity, but they are certainly much more prone to heat related illness, than average adults.
With most of Europe experiencing unprecedented highs in temperature, thanks to a manic heatwave, it is now more relevant than ever, to be well informed about the perils of heat illness and take the necessary precautions to ensure your child’s health and safety.
"While water accounts for about 60% of an adult’s body weight, around 65% of a child’s body weight is comprised of water. In infants, the number goes up to a whopping 70%"
Why are children at higher risk?
Most of us are well aware of the fact that the human body is predominantly comprised of water. While water accounts for about 60% of an adult’s body weight, around 65% of a child’s body weight is comprised of water. In infants, the number goes up to a whopping 70%. Children also have a much larger surface area in proportion to their size - i.e they have more skin, per kilogram of body weight, through which water and electrolytes are lost. Additionally, children have very high metabolic rates, all of which conspires to put them at a significantly higher risk of dehydration and heat illness than adults.
What are the different types of heat illness?
Heat related illness can manifest in several forms, ranging from simple and self-limiting to very severe.
Muscle cramps are one of the most common forms of heat illness. When kids spend extended periods of time playing out in the sun, their muscles lose salts from sweating and start contracting irregularly. Although cramps can sometimes be quite painful, they are ultimately nothing to worry about You should see them as a harmless, initial warning sign of heat induced discomfort, to prevent more severe symptoms.
Cramps are usually relieved by massaging and gently stretching the affected muscles. If your child is experiencing cramps, it is important to get them away from the sun to a cool place for rest. The next vital step is to replenish lost fluid and electrolytes with oral rehydration solutions or sports drinks.
2. Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion refers to a more severe form of heat illness that occurs during hot weather, when the child hasn’t been drinking enough fluids. Children with heat exhaustion display some, if not all of the following symptoms:
- Weakness/Low energy levels
- Increased thirst
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Heavy sweating
- Cool, clammy skin
- High temperature (but less than 40 °C [104°F] )
If you think your child is undergoing heat exhaustion, here are some steps you must promptly take -
- Take your child away from the sun into the shade or preferably, indoors, to an air-conditioned space.
- Take off their clothing
- Douse them gently with cool water or place pieces of wet cloth on their forehead and body.
- Get them to drink plenty of cool fluids containing salt and sugar ( sports drinks, fruit juices etc)
- If your child looks severely exhausted or is too tired to speak, you might need to call your doctor. Your child might need to be treated with IV fluids.
"Heatstrokes constitute a serious medical emergency. They may lead to brain damage and can be fatal if immediate medical attention isn’t provided."
3. Heat Stroke
Heat strokes are the most serious form of heat illness. They constitute a serious medical emergency and can be life threatening if immediate medical attention isn’t provided.
During a heat stroke, the body’s temperature regulation system exceeds its capacity, resulting in tremendous amounts of heat being retained. The body temperature soars dangerously high (upwards of 40°C [104°F] ) and puts the child at serious risk of brain damage and worse, death. Excessive physical exertion and overdressing during hot weather, with low intake of fluids, increase the risk of a heat stroke.
You should call for immediate medical help if you see any of the following symptoms in your child -
- Severely high temperature (upwards of 40°C [104°F] )
- Severe headache
- Rapid breathing/heart rate
- Loss of consciousness
- No sweating
- Dry, flushed skin
Before help arrives, the same steps mentioned above can be followed. However, it is important to note that if your child is not responsive, alert and conscious, fluids should NOT be offered.
General Tips for Prevention of Heat Illness
- Inculcate strong hydration habits. Teach your kids to rehydrate themselves regularly, especially during physical activity
- Educate your kids to “listen” to their bodies and respond to tiredness by immediately getting some rest
- Limit physical activity and sport sessions to mornings and evenings, during hot weather
- Dress your kids in light, loose and breathable clothes, during summer
- Do not leave kids unattended in cars. On a sunny day, temperatures inside a car can reach unholy peaks of up to 51.7°C [125°F ] in a mere 20 minutes.
Most instances of heat illness can easily be avoided, with some basic precautions and firm parenting. Although easy to avoid, heat illness can have potentially devastating consequences, and is not to be taken lightly.