When summer heat grows intense, parents need to be mindful of their children’s health. But David Pollack, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), says there’s no reason to stay indoors all day.
“Kids need outdoor time all year round,” he explains. “The activity, the sunlight, the fresh air, and the exposure to nature are all important for their health. And older kids benefit from detaching from computers and electronic devices. On the hottest summer days, parents simply need to observe some common-sense guidelines and pay close attention to how their kids are feeling.”
How to prevent heat stroke and overheating
Dr. Pollack offers these precautions and suggestions to stay safe and comfortable on hot days and prevent overheating.
Babies and young children
Babies and young children are at greater risk of overheating because they sweat less, which limits their ability to cool down in the heat.
- Take special care not to overdress babies when the weather is hot.
- Give them extra fluid to drink — more breast milk or formula; plenty of additional water if they are weaned. Breastfeeding mothers should drink extra water themselves on hot days.
Children of all ages
When your children are old enough to understand and communicate how they’re feeling, remind them to pay attention to their bodies in the heat, and to tell an adult if they don’t feel well or need to take a break. Parents and caregivers can follow these guidelines to help keep everyone in the family cool and healthy on those steamy summer days.
- Keep them hydrated. Remind your kids to drink water regularly, all day long. Bring water with you when you go out so it’s always available. Monitor urine output. If your kids aren’t peeing, they are likely not drinking enough.
- Dress them in light clothes. Children, like adults, need light clothes in hot weather — light in weight and color. Dark colors absorb heat from sunlight, while light colors reflect it. Choose clothes made from lightweight, breathable fabrics, the type of clothing you would be comfortable in yourself when out in the heat.
- Go outside when the sun is low and the air is at its coolest, in the morning and late afternoon or evening. The hours between noon and 4 p.m. are the most dangerous for heat exposure in very hot weather. Use that hottest part of the day for your indoor activities and for resting.
- Allow extra time for rest. Heat is tiring, and especially tiring for children. Plan you day with breaks for everyone.
- Help your kids cool off. Give them a cool bath or spray them with a water mist. Run their wrists and ankles under cold water. Wipe their heads with a wet towel. If you have a place to swim, bring them, taking care to stay out of the full sun between noon and 4 p.m.
- Never leave a child unattended in the car. Cars heat up quickly to dangerous temperatures when parked in the sun, even when it isn’t hot outside. When you park, check the back seat to make sure everyone is out of the car before you leave it.
- Keep your home cool. If you don’t have air conditioning, open windows for ventilation and run a fan.
- Find air-conditioned public spaces. You might spend part of your day at the library or a mall.
Recognize the signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke
Dr. Pollack advises parents to watch for signs their children may be overheating.
- Symptoms of heat exhaustion include: pallor (an unhealthy pale appearance), weakness, headache, nausea, muscle cramps or fainting. If you notice any of these signs, even subtle ones, cool your child off and have them drink extra fluid right away.
- Symptoms of heat stroke include: high fever, flushed skin, confusion or loss of consciousness. This condition warrants a call to 911.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke sound scary, and they are. But your child is unlikely to experience them if you follow simple precautions. Dr. Pollack offers this slogan for the hot days of summer: “Give plenty of water to your active son and daughter.”