The human body can generate an enormous amount of heat. Generally, your body cools down by sweating and when the heat radiates from your skin. However, in really hot and humid weather, your body's natural cooling process may not work, allowing heat in your body to accumulate and reach dangerous levels. This can cause your body to have heat related illness, such as heat cramping, heatstroke, or even heat exhaustion.
Heat cramping is very painful and occurs when muscles cramp in the legs, abdomen, or arms during or immediately after a rigorous physical activities in extreme heat. When your body sweats during vigorous exercise it causes the loss of essential fluids and salts. Because of a low level of salts in your body, your muscles will cramp. Children are at high risk for heat cramping if they do not stay hydrated. Even though heat cramping is very painful, the cramping alone is not a serious condition. However, the cramping can be the first indication of more severe heat related illnesses, so they should be attended to immediately as to not let the body become more serious.
Here's what to do if muscles start cramping:
Move to a cooler place where you (or a child) can rest and get hydrated. This will ease the pain in the muscles. If at all possible, give fluids that do have salt and sugar in them. Typically, sports drinks contain both. You will also want to carefully stretch and massage the muscles that are cramping. This will help to alleviate the pain.
The next level of heat illness is heat exhaustion. This can occur when the body is in a hotter temperature and is not properly hydrated. Some of the symptoms include:
- muscle cramping
- increased thirst
- feeling faint/fainting
- head hurts/sudden headache
- increased sweating
- skin is cool and clammy
- body temperature is elevated, but is less than 104 degrees F (40 degrees C)
Here's what to do to treat heat exhaustion:
- Move inside to a cooler place, with air-conditioning or at least a shaded area.
- Take off clothing that is not necessary
- Drink cool fluids, such as sports drinks, that have salt and sugar
- Place a wet, cool cloth (or cool liquid) on the skin where it is the hottest to the touch
- Contact your physician/medical personnel for assistance, especially if you or the child is too exhausted or sick to drink. The fluids needed may need to be given through an IV (intravenous).
If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can lead to a heatstroke, which may be fatal.
Heatstroke is the most serious of heat related illnesses. Please be aware that it is a life-threatening medical emergency. When an individual has a heatstroke, their body has lost the ability to regulate their own temperature, so the body's temperature can very rapidly rise to 106 degrees F (41.1 degrees C), or even more. If their body's temperature isn't treated quickly, it can lead to brain damage and even death. Immediate medical attention is required to bring the body's temperature down.
Here are some factors that can greatly increase the risk for a heatstroke: overdressing along with extreme physical exercise in hot weather while failing to be and/or become properly hydrated.
Another all to common occurrence of heatstroke can happen when a child is left/trapped in a vehicle on a hot day. If the outside temperature is 93 degrees F (33.9 degrees C), then the temperature can reach as much as 125 degrees F (51.7 degrees C) inside of the car in just over 15 minutes. Body temperatures inside the car would rapidly raise to very dangerous level.
What to do if you suspect someone is experiencing a heatstroke:
Immediately call for emergency medical attention (dial 911) if the child had been in extreme heat and they have one or more of the following symptoms:
- body temperature of 104 degrees F (40 degrees C) or higher
- rapid breathing and rapid heartbeat
- severe headache
- stopped sweating
- hot, dry, flushed skin
While you are waiting on help to arrive:
- get them to a cooler environment (inside or at least in a shaded area)
- take off their clothes and sponge or douse their body with cool liquid
- do not give them fluids unless they are awake, aware and normal acting
An ounce of prevention goes a long way
Here's what you can do to help keep children safe from heat illnesses:
- Teach children that need to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after activities that occur in a sunny, hot environment. They drink fluids even if they don't appear to be thirsty.
- Children should always wear light-colored and loosely fitted apparel. Sunscreen should always be word outside, even if it is a cloudy day
- Monitor the amount of time that children are outside, making sure they come in to rest and drink plenty of fluids
- Whenever possible, make sure that your children participate in physical activities outside before noon and after 6:00 p.m.