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Heat Stroke in Kids
Kelly Ochoa, MD
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Ole Ole Ole Ole … Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot.
In the Central Valley we are ALL hot – ALL summer long. School’s out and summer is here – time to sing and dance and celebrate being done with this crazy school year, but mind you with record breaking temperatures here in Central California, feelin’ too Hot Hot Hot can be dangerous for our little ones. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real dangers in these parts, and precautions need to be taken when the triple digits hit.
How Long Does it Take for Heat Stroke?
Less Than TEN Minutes
First and foremost I’ll bring up summer car safety. TOO MANY babies die from preventable heat stroke from being left in a car on a hot day. I do NOT want to treat your child for heat stroke in the ER this summer, so please read on and spread the word. The internal temperature of a car can heat to temps 30-40 degrees F hotter than outside. Without getting into too much of the physics – basically sunlight energy enters through the windows, is absorbed in the car, and is unable to escape, EVEN WITH OPEN WINDOWS. In a parked car, the temperature can rise 20 degrees F in just 10 minutes. This means that if it is 90 degrees F outside, a typical summer day in Fresno, it takes LESS THAN 10 minutes for the car temp to rise to over 107 degrees F – a lethal temperature for a baby stuck inside the car. On top of this, a child’s temperature can rise 5 times faster than an adult’s, and they aren’t as good at cooling themselves off by sweating. As you can see, it only takes minutes in hot summer temperatures to create a dangerous situation for a child in a parked car.
Please Never Ever Not Even for a Minute
Please do not leave your child (or dog, or grandma for that matter) unattended in a car, no matter how small or quick the errand is. I advise you to leave your wallet and cell next to the carseat so that you have no chance of forgetting about your sleeping baby in the back (it happens). Leave your car locked when at home, and keep your keys out of a child’s reach. If you ever see a child in a parked car, unattended, call 911. Do not be too shy or afraid to call, dispatchers do not take these calls lightly and you could save a life.
Heat Stroke in Athletes
Don’t Shoot for a PR When It Is 100 degrees Outside
Babies and toddlers are not the only children to suffer from heat related illnesses. Older children may not be stuck in car seats, but they too must take precautions under the sweltering sun. Don’t push it too hard to win that soccer game, and don’t expect to get a PR in your 5K on a triple digit day. Rest and hydration are imperative during all summer exercise. On a normal, “non-sweaty” day, children ages 4-8 years old need about 5 cups of water per day, and older children need 7-8 cups per day. So on a hot day, playing outside, they need much more than this. A teen, for instance, should drink about 40 gulps of water per hour while exercising in heat. Water is typically best, but if sweaty vigorous exercise will extend beyond 1 hour, then an electrolyte sports drink is beneficial as well. Be proactive and encourage your child to drink consistently when playing outside. If a child is thirsty, that means they are already dehydrated. If you know that a meet or game is coming up, make sure to pre-hydrate ahead of time. When your urine is clear, you are hydrated. Dark urine is a sign of dehydration.
Warning Signs of Heat Stroke
Initial signs that the heat is getting to your child, and they need a break are face flushing, rapid heart rate, and excessive thirst. Take a time out, drink a bunch of gulps of water, and lay or sit down for a bit in the shade. If your child is feeling lightheaded, has a headache, has muscle cramps, sticky lips, or feels excessively hot or cold with goosebumps – these are signs of heat exhaustion and they need to take a break for the rest of the day, they’ve already pushed themselves too much and it can be dangerous to pursue further exertion in the heat. Heat stroke is very dangerous and the extreme of heat illness. This can happen in a young athlete who is dehydrated while continuing vigorous exercise in the heat. All these earlier warning symptoms may continue in addition to high fever, severe headache, confusion or actual loss of consciousness, slurred speech, seizures, rapid breathing, and vomiting. Heat stroke can result in brain damage and death and is not something to take lightly. If an athlete has any of these symptoms they need to be evaluated urgently, and cooling measures should be taken immediately such as ice to the neck, armpits, and groin, and fanning with cool water mist.
NEVER for any reason leave a young child alone in a car on a hot day. Drink plenty of liquids during exercise, and stop at signs of heat exhaustion – your body is telling you it is done with the heat for the day. Apply ice packs to the neck, armpits, and groin to cool down.