By: West Boca Medical Center Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
Summer’s warmer temperatures and longer days give your children more opportunities to be outside and enjoy themselves. As the temperatures rise and the humidity soars, you may start hearing the weather stations talk about the “heat index.” A heat index tells the temperature your body feels when the actual air temperature is combined with the relative humidity. This means that if the temperature outside is 90º F, and the humidity is 70 percent, then it feels like 105 º F. If you’re directly in the sun, the heat index might be as much as 15 degrees higher.
This combination of heat and humidity makes it harder for your child’s body to cool itself by giving off heat. As a result, children’s internal temperature will rise, and heat-related illnesses might result. Young children, and those who are sick or overweight are most likely to develop problems due to heat, but anyone can have a heat-related illness.
Stages of Heat Illnesses
For most kids, there are warning signs that the heat is beginning to affect them. The first sign may be muscle cramps in the stomach, arms or legs. You may see swelling in their feet, legs and ankles. Another early warning sign may be dizziness or feeling faint. If you notice these early signs of heat illnesses in your children, here are some steps you can take:
Stop any physical activity and move them to a cooler, shady area.
Have them drink plenty of fluids, but avoid drinks containing caffeine.
Put their legs up if you notice swelling or feel dizzy.
If these measures don’t work, contact their pediatrician.
Heat exhaustion is the second stage of heat illness. This means that your body can’t keep itself cool. Symptoms may include thirst, dizziness, weakness, lack of coordination, nausea and profuse sweating. Their body temperature will be normal, but their skin will feel cold and clammy. If you start to see the signs of heat exhaustion, follow the steps listed above. If they don’t start feeling better soon, you should seek emergency medical care.
The final stage is heat stroke, which requires immediate emergency care. This is a life-threatening illness where your body can’t regulate its temperature by sweating. If this occurs, your temperature rises so high that brain damage or death may occur. During heat stroke, your internal temperature may reach 106 º F within 10 to 15 minutes. The warning signs of heat stroke include:
Body temperature of 103 º F or more
Skin that is red, hot and dry
Lack of sweating
Remember that if you see the signs of heat stroke, this is a life-threatening emergency. Anyone with these symptoms should be taken immediately to the closest emergency facility. Call 9-1-1 for emergency assistance and start trying to cool the person until help arrives.
Prevention is best
You can prevent most problems with heat illnesses. If your home doesn’t have air conditioning, consider getting a small, window unit to cool one room so that you have a cool place to rest during extreme heat. Use fans to circulate the air.
Stay indoors during the heat of the day and limit your exposure to the sun. There are many public buildings like libraries, malls and movie theaters where you can go during the heat of the day. During days of extreme heat, many towns will open special cooling shelters for people to use.
Drink plenty of fluids, especially those that don’t contain alcohol or caffeine. Eat light, well-balanced meals.
Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. Lighter colors will help reflect heat and keep you cooler. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face and neck.
Most importantly, avoid strenuous activities such as exercise, working in the yard during the middle of the day.
Children are prone to heat stroke. Sometimes it’s just minor but for more serious issues, parents need to have an ER dedicated to treating young patients. Our Pediatric ER is designed specifically for children, and our goal is to see your child in 30 minutes or less. Since the pediatric ER treats newborns up to children 18 years of age, our waiting room is for kids only.
If your child’s condition is not urgent, we offer an online ER check-in service to reserve your time online and comfortably wait at home. It’s quick, easy and our goal is to have you your child be seen by a healthcare professional within minutes of your scheduled time.
Visit www.westbocamedctr.com for more information.