Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Kids – Signs and Treatment

The summer months bring along the long vacation and everyone wants to travel and go out and have fun. However the fear of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in kids – are conditions that every parent is worried about and this keeps many of us from having the fun we should. If you are worried about heat exhaustion and heat stroke in your kids – read about the signs that you need to watch out for and the treatment you need to start in such cases.

What are the heat related illnesses in children

During the summer months – when the temperatures are very high – several times – heat related health emergencies present themselves rapidly in the most unexpected circumstances.

Cases of pediatric heat stroke and pediatric heat exhaustion are seen far more often than cases of adult heat stroke and heat exhaustion for the following reasons –

  1. Children are dependent on others to regulate their environments
  2. The sweat glands in a child’s body do not function as efficiently as the sweat glands of an adult and therefore cannot control the body temperature adequately.
  3. When children are busy playing – they often forget to drink water and keep themselves hydrated until it is too late.

What are the main pediatric heat related illness that parents must watch out for?

The most important emergencies that parents must watch out for are –

  1. Heat exhaustion
  2. Heat stroke

Heat exhaustion can rapidly progress to heat stroke and this can be a life threatening condition and so parents must be extremely watch for symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in childr


Signs and Symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in children

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion in a child

Heat Exhaustion presents with sweating, muscle cramps, giddiness, headache, palpitation, dark colored urine and fainting.

The signs of heat exhaustion in an infant may often be difficult to recognize unless parents are very alert because infants will not be able to tell their parents or caregivers about their discomfort. Infants may just be cranky in the heat which parents may consider normal and ignore. Even dark colored urine which is a very important sign of heat exhaustion may go unnoticed in infants because they may be using diapers. The first sign of heat exhaustion in a child that parents may actually notice is fainting. By which time it may be too late to do too much to bring down the body temperature

Signs of heat stroke in kids

Heat stroke symptoms in a child are seen when the child’s core body temperature rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency and it is easy to miss the signs of heat stroke in infants and toddlers because of their inability to communicate their discomfort to their parents and caregivers at an early stage.

The following complains must be considered signs of heat stroke in toddlers

  1. Headache
  2. Dizziness
  3. Weakness or staggering
  4. Cramps

When heat stroke symptoms in toddlers are missed at an early stage – the following signs appear which should tell you that your child is having a heat stroke

  1. Lack of sweating despite the heat
  2. Red, hot, and dry skin
  3. Nausea and vomiting
  4. Fainting and unconsciousness
  5. Palpitations
  6. Rapid, shallow breathing
  7. Confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  8. Seizures

Also read Dehydration in Children and Babies. Facts Signs and Treatment

 Important things to know about heat exhaustion and heat stroke in children

Heat exhaustion can rapidly progress to heat stroke if it is not treated urgently. But heat stroke can also occur without heat exhaustion occurring first.

Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are life threatening emergencies and your child must get urgent medical attention.

Watch the video below for a summary of heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Detailed article continues below the video

How to treat heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Treatment for Heat Exhaustion

  1. The first thing to do when heat exhaustion is suspected is – to move the child to a cooler place
  2. If possible the child must be shifted to an air-conditioned room or at least to a cool shady place with a fan – and made to rest there
  3. Give the child plenty of water in small frequent sips. Avoid juices, fizzy drinks and drinks with caffeine. Do not allow the child to gulp water as it may cause vomiting
  4. Remove as much clothing as possible. Definitely remove all tight clothes.
  5. Sponge the child with cool water or give the child a bath with cool water. Do not use ice cold water.
  6. If the child does seem to be better after 15 minutes of doing the above things to reduce the body temperature –shift the child to the hospital. Untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.
  7. A child who has suffered heat exhaustion must not be allowed to go out in the heat until a doctor has certified that his/her body has recovered from the heat exhaustion and can handle a high temperature again. It may take up to a week for a child to recover from heat exhaustion

Treatment of heat stroke

A heat stroke is a medical emergency and if you think that your child has a heat stroke – call for an ambulance immediately

Do the following as first aid until the ambulance arrives

  1. Move the child to an air-conditioned room or at least a cool, shady place and fan her/him
  2. Remove as much clothing as possible.
  3. Sponge the child with cool water.
  4. Gently fan the child
  5. Sponge the child’s armpits, groin, neck, and back.
  6. Do not use ice or ice cold water

 How to prevent heat stroke and heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion usually occurs when it is hot and humid

Heat exhaustion is more common in cities – where there are concrete structures that absorb a lot of heat – and no trees to cool the air down

  1. It is best to keep children indoors when it is hot and humid
  2. Make sure children wear light weight cotton clothes that are light colored and loose fitting
  3. When out in the sun – children must be encouraged to wear a hat with a wide brim
  4. It is best to avoid outdoor activities during the day in summer. Try to schedule outdoor activities early in the morning or late in the evening if you live in a hot place.
  5. Children must constantly drink lots of fluids. Lots of water is especially important because many of the other fluids that children drink cause further dehydration by increasing the frequency of urination
  6. ORS or Oral Rehydration solution which is rich in electrolytes must be given to children who are playing in the sun because sweating while playing in the sun causes the loss of electrolytes from the body.
  7. Heat stroke symptoms in toddlers and infants must be looked out for during diaper changes. High colored urine in the diaper must prompt you to take immediate action.
  8. Keep the curtains in your house drawn during the hottest part of the day. Try to ensure cross ventilation rather than keeping all the doors and windows tightly shut.
  9. If you travel to a place that is hotter than what your child is used to – try to stay indoors for the first few days until your child’s body has had a chance to get used to the increased temperature

 Also read  How to Keep Children Healthy While Travelling in Summer

Heat emergencies can be dangerous – learn to recognize them so that you can reach out for help immediately

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