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All about heat stroke and heat exhaustion in children

Children are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, so parents must always take precautions to avoid heat-related conditions.

For children, warm weather usually means fun in the sun. However, when temperatures (and humidity levels) soar, children are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, toddlers are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses because they have less body surface area to regulate their temperatures. Younger children are more prone to heat exhaustion because they have less space to sweat and a less developed regulation capacity. Toddlers are also unable to regulate their body temperature on their own.

Humidity also plays a role. When the humidity level in the environment exceeds 60%, it is more difficult for children to cool themselves because their sweating mechanism does not function as well.

The good news is that many heat-related conditions can be avoided.

Know the signs of heat exhaustion

Did you know that heat exhaustion occurs before heat stroke? If your child is playing in the sun, keep an eye out for these signs of heat exhaustion.

  • Excessive sweating
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness/fainting
  • Pale skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Increased thirst
  • Weakness
  • Cool, clammy skin

How to deal with heat exhaustion in children

If your child exhibits any of these symptoms of heat exhaustion, get them indoors or out of the sun, even if it’s just into the shade.

Cool them down by wetting their skin or removing layers of clothing, and if they’re awake, slowly rehydrate them with cool water or a low-sugar sports drink to replenish electrolytes.

Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or do not improve in 20-30 minutes despite the above treatment to avoid heat stroke.

Regardless, if your child exhibits signs of heat exhaustion, you should consult with their paediatrician to ensure no further treatment is required. Fortunately, patients with heat exhaustion usually recover quickly -within 30 minutes of treatment, with no complications.

Heat stroke symptoms

Do you know the distinction between heat exhaustion and heat stroke? Experts believe that heat stroke can occur if heat exhaustion goes undetected or untreated. It occurs when the body’s heat regulation centre malfunctions, causing the core body temperature to rise uncontrollably.

Heat stroke is a potentially fatal condition. If you suspect a child is suffering from heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately.

Keep an eye out for the following signs of heat stroke

  • Flushed/hot skin that is dry to the touch
  • High body temperature
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache
  • Confusion/agitation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Heat stroke treatment

It is critical to treat heat stroke as soon as possible. Move your child to a cool place, have them lie down with their feet slightly elevated, wet their skin or clothes, remove articles of clothing, and vigorously fan them. If your child’s condition does not improve after a few minutes, seek medical attention.

How to prevent heat illness in children

Knowing the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke is essential, but you should also take precautions to avoid them in the first place. According to experts, the three best ways to prevent heat illness are:

  1. Proper clothing
  2. Shade
  3. Hydration during activities and rehydration afterwards

Finally, never leave your child in the sun for too long. Never put a towel or blanket over a car seat or stroller because it reduces airflow, and your child can quickly overheat. Always double-check your car’s backseat, and never leave your child unattended in a vehicle, even for a few minutes.

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