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The good news is that in most cases heat-related illnesses can be prevented. Plenty of fluids before, during and following activity will go a long way toward preventing heat-related health problems.
Dehydration is the most common of heat-related illnesses. Children become dehydrated when they don’t replace the fluids lost when they sweat. Dehydration puts children at risk of the more dangerous heat-related conditions. Thirst is the first and most obvious symptom. Other signs that a child is dehydrated include:
Keeping a child’s fluid levels up is the best way to prevent and relieve dehydration. Give your child plenty of water or sports drinks before, during and after play. If you suspect a child is dehydrated, start rehydration (replacing the fluids lost by sweating) immediately. Additionally, have the child rest in the shade or other cool area.
“The practice of denying or limiting fluids during training and actual games has proven to be detrimental to performance, and increases the risk of heat illness for children and athletes at any level,” says Richard A. Saladino, MD, chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
Heat cramps most often occur when it is hot and a child has been active for awhile and is dehydrated. Cramping most often occurs in the lower extremities. Abdominal cramps can also occur as a result of prolonged activity on a hot day. Signs of heat cramps include:
If you suspect a child has a heat cramp:
It is not unusual for even the best trained young athlete to experience heat cramps. “We tend to see heat cramps toward the end of the summer, especially when junior high and high school kids are out training twice a day and it is hot,” Dr. Saladino says. “On one hand, they are reasonably trained athletes; on the other, they are pushing their limits.”
Heat exhaustion can occur when the weather is hot and a child continues to be active after already suffering from dehydration.
“We see it episodically on the hottest days of the summer, or at the end of summer when high school football teams are training,” Dr. Saladino says. “We often see a sudden increase in the number of children and young adults with heat illness beyond mild to moderate dehydration.”
Signs a child may be suffering from heat exhaustion include:
If you suspect heat exhaustion take immediate steps to cool the child including:
If the child does not recover quickly seek medical treatment promptly.
Heat stroke is a serious heat-related illness that untreated can lead to permanent disability or death. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above 104 degrees, usually as a result of vigorous activity in the heat. The risk of heat stroke increases as heat and humidity rise. Signs a child may be suffering from heat stroke include:
Children suffering ill effects from heat should be carefully observed. In cases of mild to moderate dehydration, replenishing fluids and cooling down a child typically lead to quick recovery. Seek medical treatment promptly when a child:
In general medical care should be sought when a parent or caregiver is concerned about a child’s heat-related condition.
Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In addition to the main hospital, Children's has many convenient locations in other neighborhoods throughout the greater Pittsburgh region.
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Interested in giving to Children's Hospital? Visit Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation's website to make a donation online.