I can tell you from firsthand experience — heat stroke is no joke. I suffered through heat exhaustion (the precursor to heat stroke, which can be fatal) several summers ago and it was sheer misery. Worse than the worst case of stomach flu I’ve ever had. Perhaps you can imagine (please don’t for too long.) Odd thing is, it was an extremely hot day and I spent most of it sitting idly in front of a fan.
Heat injuries can really creep up on you, so please take a moment to understand what heat injuries are, how to recognize them and how to prevent them.
What are heat injuries?
There are different types of heat injuries, according to Dr. Alan Greene:
Children’s skin can be quite sensitive to heat. Nursing moms often discover this, especially in the summertime, when their baby’s face turns red where it is against the mother’s skin. This redness comes from blood vessels in the area dilating to cool the skin down. Cooling the skin usually makes the rash disappear within hours, or even sooner. Prickly heat (miliaria rubra) is a type of heat rash that lasts.
Heat cramps are common with physical exertion. They usually affect the calf or hamstring muscles.
Heat syncope is fainting due to heat/dehydration.
Heat edema is swelling of the hands or feet from heat. People sometimes get this condition when initially exposed to hot weather.
Heat tetany is tingling, especially of the wrists. Hyperventilation in hot weather can cause heat tetany.
Heat exhaustion usually entails a body temperature of 101 to 104, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fainting.
It is important to recognize and treat heat exhaustion immediately.
Heat stroke is very serious. A person’s temperature rises over 104 degrees and he or she has an altered mental status. 50 percent of those with heat stroke die from it. There are two types of heat stroke: exertional, with profuse sweating; and classic, in which the skin is hot and dry. Classic heat stroke builds up over days and is most common in infants and in the elderly. It is a true emergency.
The smaller the child, the less likely he is to be able to tolerate heat, especially if he is already a bit dehydrated or has a fever, and if there is poor air circulation.
Heat injuries can occur at any age. Sports and physical activity are generally beneficial and healthy for adolescents; nevertheless, heat injuries are among the leading causes of sports deaths.
Dr. Greene also points out that these populations are at a higher risk:
- Small children and babies;
- People who have a prior history of heat injury;
- People who are taking medicines or drugs (including antihistamines, Ritalin, thyroid hormone, some colic medicines, bed-wetting medicines, diuretics or laxatives);
- Or people who have underlying illnesses (such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, vomiting, diarrhea, bronchiolitis or a variety of skin disorders)
How Can You Prevent Heat Injuries?
Hydration and air circulation. Two very simple steps parents should be extremely attentive to during the blazing days of summer.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Drink plenty of water throughout the day during hot weather. If you wait until you feel thirsty, your body has already become dehydrated. Don’t wait, just drink. And, remind your kids to drink. (Sometimes my husband and I hover over our girls, saying “chug, chug, chug!” just to get them to take an honest, big drink.)
2. If you’re exercising (think swimming, playing at the park, sports), drink plenty of water before you begin and every 20 minutes during. Dr. Greene says water is fine for exercise up to an hour, but electrolyte solutions are better for exercise that is more strenuous. Skip the Gatorade and opt for something pure and healthy — like coconut water. Dietician Ashley Koff says you can’t properly hydrate with only water. “For true hydration,” says Koff, “the body requires nutrients known as electrolytes. The core electrolytes are minerals: potassium and sodium, which work in opposition to each other. Potassium brings water into the cells and sodium maintains water balance outside the cells. While both are critical for hydration, it is often a deficit of potassium that hampers most individuals’ hydration efforts. Coconut water IS true, natural hydration.” Read more about coconut water and healthy hydration.
3. When you’re on the go (or even just playing in the yard), keep cold, bottled water on hand. Forget about single-use bottled water (which can pose its own risks – especially in the heat) and opt for a stainless steel bottle you can re-fill over and over. At our house, we have two for each person — one that we’re drinking from and one cooling in the fridge. (We spend so much time outside during the summer, we try to always have a cold one ready.) Don’t forget to grab them even for car rides and running errands. It’s always good to have water on hand.
4. Keep some coconut water in your pantry (or in the fridge, if you can spare the room). That way if your child ever starts showing symptoms of dehydration or heat injury, you can quickly and safely re-hydrate and replace electrolytes lost through sweat.