Doctor's Orders

The Heat is on: How to Protect Your Kids

Lou Romig, MD


Heat and humidity are at their peak, leaving children vulnerable to heat-related illness.  Extreme heat can cause children to become sick from dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here is what you need to know to protect your children from the potential health effects of extreme heat.


How can I tell if my child has symptoms of heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion results from excessive loss of water and salt through sweat.  Warning signs include: profuse perspiration; cold, clammy, pale skin; cramping; fatigue; weakness; headache; nausea; vomiting;  dizziness; or fainting.  Treatment includes:

  1. Take a core body temperature, preferably rectal; and if > 103 degrees, seek medical attention.
  2. Follow the same instructions for heat cramps, such as bringing the child to a cool place and giving them a drink.
  3. Prepare a bath, shower or sponge bath with cool water.
  4. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, so consider seeking medical attention, especially if the temperature is > 103 degrees.

How is heat stroke different from heat exhaustion? 

Heat stroke is a potentially deadly condition in which the body’s thermostat malfunctions and body temperatures can reach 104 degrees or higher within 10-15 minutes. This is a very different problem than fever of 104 degrees because external factors are driving up the body temperature.  Compounding the problem is the person is unable to perspire adequately so body heat is retained rather than released.  Symptoms include: red, hot, dry skin; throbbing headache; nausea; dizziness; confusion; seizures; or even unconsciousness.

It is imperative to seek emergency medical assistance while cooling the person.  Move the child to a cool place, remove clothing that might be trapping heat, and get cool water on the skin.  DO NOT try to give anyone in this state something to drink; if they are delirious or confused, they might aspirate.


How do I protect my child from heat-related illness?

  1. Avoid exercise during the hottest parts of the day.
  2. Make sure your child stays hydrated. PREHYDRATE before activity and every 15 minutes during activity.
  3. Dress your child in clothing that wicks moisture and don’t forget to apply sunscreen!
  4. Provide frequent breaks from strenuous physical activity when heat and humidity are high.
  5. Plan for areas where your child can cool down in shade or air conditioning.
  6. Provide water misting bottles to cool down.