Summer is here! Along with the all the fun vacations, cookouts, camps and summer sports leagues, summertime in South Florida means excessive heat and humidity. Parents, coaches and camp leaders must be extra vigilant during the summer to prevent these fun activities from turning into a health hazard.
Children are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses because their bodies do not adjust to changes in temperature the same way adults do. Children tend to sweat less and produce more body heat; because they are less aware of their bodies, children can quickly succumb to the heat.
The best medicine for heat-related illness is prevention. Here are tips to help children and young adults enjoy outdoor activities safely:
- Check the daily temperature and humidity (heat index), and plan your outdoor activities accordingly. You can check the National Weather Service website at www.weather.gov for heat index information in your area. If the heat index is high, consider moving outdoor plans to a cooler time of day or postpone it to another day.
- Wear clothing that is appropriate for the conditions. Clothing should be light and allow skin to perspire freely.
- Acclimatize your child to the heat. Allowing your child to become accustomed to the temperatures over several days will allow the body to better adjust. Sports teams should begin with one hour of practice and slowly increase activity time and intensity over a week's period. The National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) offers guidelines for sports teams and weather.
- Hydration is key in preventing heat-related illnesses. Hydration should not begin when practice begins but rather should be part of the entire day. Water should be readily available and kept cold while children enjoy outdoor activities. They should have the ability to drink water with no restrictions. Parents can monitor their child's hydration through urine color. Very light or clear urine indicates the body is properly hydrated. Dark urine indicates the child should increase water intake until it becomes lighter.
Is you child drinking enough water during sports activities?
Here are helpful tips to ensure a child is drinking enough water:
- Drink a minimum of 24 to 36 ounces of cold water before an outdoor activity.
- Encourage your child to drink at least 8 ounces of water every 20 to 30 minutes during the outdoor activity. If activity is longer than one hour, encourage the child to drink a sports drink (electrolyte drink such as Gatorade).
- The CDC recommends drinking 24 to 36 ounces of fluids to replace all fluid loss after the outdoor activity.
Sings and Symptoms of Heat Illnesses in Children
Heat illnesses can be classified into three main categories. If your child is experiencing severe symptoms, is unable to drink fluids and/or is vomiting, please call 911 and seek emergency attention immediately.
The mildest form of heat illness is usually associated with fluid and electrolyte loss. Symptoms can include fatigue and painful muscle contractions. The child should be moved to a cool room immediately and offered a sports drink to replace fluids and electrolytes. Mild stretching of the affected muscle(s) also helps.
The most common form of heat illness in sports is heat exhaustion. Symptoms may include dizziness, weakness, diarrhea and vomiting, diminished levels of consciousness, excessive sweating, and muscle cramping. The child should be relocated to a cool room immediately, excess clothing should be removed and cold cloths or ice bags can be applied on the skin. The child can also be offered a sports drink to replace fluids and electrolytes. If the child is unable to drink or is vomiting, please call 911 and seek emergency medical attention immediately.
This is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY!
Heat stroke is the most severe heat illness and, if not treated quickly, can be fatal. Symptoms include loss of consciousness or altered mental status (combative and/or disoriented behavior), nausea, red-hot skin
and an elevated core temperature above 104 degrees. Please call 911 and seek emergency medical
attention immediately if the child is experiencing any of these symptoms.
Summertime activities and sports are fun and enjoyable. With the proper education and preparation, parents can rest assured that children enjoy summer sports safely. Sometimes all they need is to be reminded to drink plenty of water. After all, kids will be kids!