Keeping Your Child Safe From the 3H’s of Heat Illness

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Several US states and cities have seen record breaking temperatures this summer. Doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center want to give tips to parents and guardians on how they can keep their kids safe during the hot weather.

Eric Kirkendall, MD, Hospital Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s, explains that there are three major illnesses that heat can trigger. “Heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps are reactions caused by exposure to high temperatures combined with high humidity,” he explains. “The most serious of these is heat stroke.”

Heat stroke symptoms include hot flushed skin, high fevers (over 104° F), altered mental states such as confusion, and can be accompanied by seizures. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and needs to be treated promptly.

Heat exhaustion is less severe, than heat stroke but is still dangerous and requires medical attention. Symptoms include pale skin; profuse sweating; nausea, dizziness, fainting, or weakness.

Heat cramps are most common in the abdomen and legs, especially the calf or thigh muscles. Tightness or hand spasms can also occur, but none of these symptoms are accompanied by a fever.

Dr. Kirkendall advises that parents and caregivers should limit outdoor play time when it is extremely hot outside to early morning or late afternoon. “Keep them well hydrated with water, and take frequent breaks to allow them to come inside and cool off,” he says. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Dr. Kirkendall give the following tips on how to keep children safe during extreme hot weather:

Treating Heat Stroke

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Cool the child off as rapidly as possible while waiting for Emergency Medical Services to arrive. Move the child to a cool shady place or an air-conditioned room; sponge the entire body surface with cool water (as tolerated without causing shivering); and fan the child to increase evaporation.
  • Keep the feet elevated to counteract shock.
  • If the child is awake, give him as much cold water to drink as he can tolerate.
  • Fever medicines are of no value for heat stroke.

Treating Heat Exhaustion

  • Put the child in a cool place. Have him lie down with the feet elevated.
  • Undress the child (except for underwear) so the body surface can give off heat.
  • Sponge the entire body surface continuously with cool water without causing shivering. Fan the child to increase heat loss from evaporation.
  • Give the child as much cool, not cold water to drink as is tolerable until he feels better.
  • Move the child to a shaded area.
  • For persistent or severe symptoms, take the child to be seen by a physician.

Avoiding Heat Cramps

  • Monitor the child’s physical activity and make sure that he does not overly exert himself.
  • Make sure the child drinks plenty of water and rehydrates often.
  • Encourage frequent breaks from physical activity so the child can cool down and gently stretch his muscles.

About Cincinnati Children’s

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center ranks third in the nation among all Honor Roll hospitals in U.S.News and World Report’s 2013 Best Children’s Hospitals ranking. It is ranked #1 for cancer and in the top 10 for nine of 10 pediatric specialties. Cincinnati Children’s is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health, and a research and teaching affiliate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The medical center is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation. Additional information can be found at www.cincinnatichildrens.org. Connect on the Cincinnati Children’s blog, via Facebook and on Twitter.

Contact Information

Danielle Jones
513-636-9473
danielle.jones@cchmc.org