With the hot days of summer comes trips to the beaches, pools, water parks and other outdoor activities. In order for our young ones to fully enjoy the summer months, it is important that we prepare them for a long day of play in the sun.
Here are the things that we need to know to protect our child from the dangers of dehydration and heat related illnesses.
1. What puts my child at risk for dehydration?
The same things that put you at risk for dehydration: prolonged exposure to high temperatures, direct sun, and high humidity, without sufficient rest and fluids. The difference is that a child's body surface area makes up a much greater proportion of his overall weight than an adult's, which means children face a much greater risk of dehydration and heat-related illness.
2. What signs of dehydration should we watch for?
Early signs of dehydration include fatigue, thirst, dry lips and tongue, lack of energy, and feeling overheated. But if kids wait to drink until they feel thirsty, they're already dehydrated. Thirst doesn't really kick in until a child has lost 2% of his or her body weight as sweat.
Untreated dehydration can lead to three worse types of heat illness:
Heat cramps: Painful cramps of the abdominal muscles, arms, or legs.
Heat exhaustion: Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, weakness, muscle pain, and sometimes unconsciousness.
Heat stroke: A temperature of 40 degrees Celsius or higher and severe symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, seizures, disorientation or delirium, lack of sweating, shortness of breath, unconsciousness, and coma.
Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke require immediate care. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that, when untreated, can be deadly. Any child with heat stroke should be rushed to the nearest hospital.
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3. What can I do to prevent dehydration in my child?
Make sure they drink cool water early and often. Send your child out to practice or play fully hydrated. Then, during play, make sure your child takes regular breaks to eat fruits and drink fluid, even if your child isn't thirsty.
Get them acclimatized before summer practice. "If you're going to send your kid off to summer camps, they should slowly be building up their fitness and ability to handle the heat." The fitter children are, the sooner their bodies will start to sweat after beginning to exercise -- and that's a good thing!
A simple rule of thumb: if your child's urine is dark in colour, rather than clear or light yellow, he or she may be becoming dehydrated.
4. If my child develops heat illness, what can I do to treat it?
The first thing you should do with any heat illness is getting the child out of the sun into a cool, comfortable place. Have the child start drinking plenty of cool fluids. The child should also take off any excess layers of clothing or bulky equipment. You can put cool, wet clothes on overheated skin. In cases of heat cramps, gentle stretches to the affected muscle should relieve the pain.
Kids with heat exhaustion should be treated in the same way. However, we recommend that the child should not be allowed back in the sun or carry out any strenuous activity. Monitor your child even more carefully. If your child doesn't improve, or can't take fluids, see a doctor.
Heat stroke is always an emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
5. Are some children more prone to dehydration or heat illness than others?
Yes, one of the biggest risk factors is a previous episode of dehydration or heat illness. Other factors that can put your child at greater risk for heat illness include obesity, recent illness (especially if the child has been vomiting or has had diarrhea), and use of antihistamines or diuretics.
Lack of acclimatization to hot weather and exercising beyond their level of fitness can also lead to heat illness in young athletes. If a young person isn't in shape and tries to go out and do things quickly in the heat and hasn't been used to that kind of heat and humidity and duration of exercise -- that sets them up for dehydration and heat illness.