Heat-Related Illnesses

June 26, 2014



With the weather in the next few days approaching the high 80’s and summer vacation beginning, it seems like a good time to talk about heat-related illness.  Did you know that children and adolescents adjust more slowly than adults do to changes in environmental temperature?  They also sweat less than adults- sweating is an important cooling mechanism for the body.  And they don’t always want to stop playing or having fun to drink enough fluids either.  Did you know that athletes can evaporate from 1 ½-3 liters of fluid an hour??

What are the three types of heat-related illness?

  • Heat Cramps
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Heat Stroke

What is the difference between them?

  • Heat Cramps
    • The mildest form of heat injury and shows up with muscle cramps and spasms that happen during or after exercise and sweating, usually much worse in high heat.
    • Symptoms include flushed, moist skin and painful muscle cramps, most commonly in the legs.
  • Heat Exhaustion
    • More severe that heat cramps and is caused by loss of both water and salts/electrolytes from the body.
    • It happens after excessive sweating in extreme heat without fluids and salt replacement.
    • The body is unable to successfully cool itself and if untreated can lead to heat stroke.
    • Symptoms include pale, moist skin and fever (usually 100-104F).
    • Your child may also have a headache, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea and may be tired and dizzy.
  • Heat Stroke
    • The most severe of the heat-related illness with the body’s cooling system being overwhelmed.
    • It is life-threatening and needs immediate medical attention.
    • Symptoms include warm, dry skin, high temperature (over 104F), and rapid heart rate.
    • Similar symptoms to heat exhaustion with nausea and vomiting may be present too.
    • They also may be confused or agitated and may have a seizure.
    • If it progresses, it can lead to shock and coma and even death.

How do we treat heat-related illness?

  • With heat cramps and heat exhaustion, treatment is the same:
    • Always move your child to a cool, shady place and let them sit and rest.
    • Remove extra clothing and place cool cloths on the skin.
    • Give them sips of cool fluids, water is ok but fluids with salt and sugar are even better!
    • If your child does not seem to improve, seek medical care, as heat exhaustion can progress into heat stroke.
  • With heat stroke, immediate medical care is needed:
    • Call 911 or your local ambulance.
    • Move your child to a cool place and also remove excess clothing.
    • Place bags with ice under the armpits and along the groin.
    • Offer cool fluids if your child is alert enough to drink.

How can I help my child stay cool in the heat?

  • Drink lots of fluids- water, sports drinks, lemonade are all good choices!  Avoid anything with caffeine, as it will dehydrate your child further.
  • Make sure your child is wearing light, loose clothing on hot days.
  • With vigorous play, try to get outside more in the morning and evening when it’s cooler and take lots of breaks to rest.
  • Exercise produces 10-20 times more heat in your child’s muscle than rest!  So be careful with letting your child attend sports practice without proper fluids and frequent rest/rehydration breaks.
  • Kiddie pools and sprinklers are great for hot days!  Teens can use a spray bottle to mist themselves in the heat too.
  • Keep an eye on the humidity!  It it’s hot and humid, your child’s sweating and cooling system is working even harder and it’s more difficult to stay cool.
  • Infants and children are even more susceptible to heat than adolescents, as they have smaller bodies and those tiny arms and legs aren’t able to sweat enough to cool down.
  • It takes time to adjust to the heat!  8-10 days are needed to “adjust” to the higher temperatures, so be cautious with starting sports in the summer and even vacationing somewhere warm during the winter.
  • If it’s hot and humid outside, find somewhere cool to go if you don’t have air conditioning- the mall, the movies, the library, or go visit family!
  • Also make sure your child is not spending time unattended in your car, which we will talk about next!

Here is a chart with heat index, from ambient temperature and humidity:



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