General Health & Wellness • Jun 29, 2012

The Heat of the Matter

Here we are, barely July yet and more than a full week into triple degree temps, just hoping for a break.  But while we wait, who wants to sit inside all day, every day, while the summer sun is begging us to take advantage? 

As we see evidenced in the news every summer, heat injuries can range from mild to severe, and can even include death.  Heat due to fluid loss is the culprit in most cases, and can lead to three different types of heat injury or illness: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Loss of fluid can lead to muscle contractions (heat cramps) in the limbs, especially calf or thigh muscles.  If your child doesn’t have a fever, but is uncomfortable, she’ll generally recover in a cool environment with rest and fluids.

However, excessive heat and fluid loss can also cause heat exhaustion, which is a more serious problem.  If your child’s skin becomes cool and pale, and he begins sweating profusely, suspect heat exhaustion.  He might also say he feels dizzy, is lightheaded or faint.  A body temperature  elevation due to the heat may cause a fever – a kind of fever that won’t respond to a fever reducer like Tylenol.  Respond quickly to heat exhaustion by giving your child plenty of fluids to drink, and encouraging him to lie down in a cool environment.   Applying cold packs or cool wet towels may bring down the temperature more quickly.  Call your pediatrician or the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line at 314.454.KIDS (5437) if he doesn’t rebound.  Some cases are severe enough that they require more aggressive treatment such as IV fluids. 

If your child seems confused, loses consciousness or goes into shock, seek medical treatment immediately.  Those are the most common signs of heatstroke.   In heatstroke, the external temperature overwhelms the body’s cooling mechanism and causes a person’s body temperature to rise.  If the child is participating in an activity, then heatstroke can occur very quickly, while a heatstroke brought about by very hot weather comes on more gradually.  Heatstroke can be a life-threatening emergency.

Your best bet to avoid heat injury: wear lightweight, breathable clothing and plan frequent water breaks (avoid juice or soda), regular rests in the shade or air conditioning, and keep activity to a minimum in extreme temperatures like we’re experiencing now.  The hotter the weather and more humid the air, the less effective sweating is at dispersing heat. 

We know are kids are excited to play outside and enjoy the season that will most assuredly end before we’re ready.  But take precautions to protect the health of every member of your family.