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Beat the heat: Keep kids cool this summer

The heat is here and so are summer sports camps.

profile of girl drinking from water fountain

Understanding how to keep active kids cool, no matter what sport they’re playing, can prevent heat-related illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke—potentially life-threatening conditions.

“In general, children are less able to adapt to heat and humidity and are more susceptible to heat-related illness than adults,” explains Sara Woods, M.D., pediatrician at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic. “Active children, many of whom are currently participating in outdoor sports camps and programs, are at serious risk for dehydration.”

Common Heat Illnesses

Dehydration — when your body loses too much water — can lead to mild to severe heat-related conditions. Heat cramps are painful cramps, usually in the legs. Heat exhaustion is more severe, with symptoms that may include cramping, pale and moist skin, a temperature over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache and weakness.

“Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are also dangerous because they can impair a child’s ability to move quickly, concentrate on an activity and make decisions that keep them out of harm’s way,” says Woods. “The result can be a serious sports-related injury.”

Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat-related illness and is a life-threatening medical emergency. Many of the symptoms are the same as heat stroke, but also include a temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, rapid heart rate, confusion and loss of appetite.

“If a child with heat stroke is not treated immediately, seizures, coma and death are all possible,” says Woods. “The best way to avoid heat stroke or any heat-related illness is to teach your children about the importance of drinking enough fluids and to monitor their activities to ensure that they don’t get dehydrated.”

Preventing Dehydration

Children produce more heat than adults, sweat less and are less likely to think about staying hydrated while on the playing field. Children who aren’t used to exercise, are overweight, take certain medications that can cause dehydration, or who have chronic health problems are at an even higher risk.

Talk to the director of your child’s sports camp and make sure the camp has a plan to slowly acclimate young athletes to the heat, that they schedule vigorous activity during cool times of the day, and have indoor activities available when needed. During outdoor activity, children should have access to a shaded area to rest and cool down. In addition, make sure the camp has plenty of drinking water on hand and that frequent drinking is encouraged, says Woods.

“By the time a child actually feels thirsty, he or she is most likely already dehydrated,” she adds. “Children should drink 5 ounces of water or a sports beverage for every 20 minutes of activity that takes place in warm conditions. Adolescents should drink at least 9 ounces every 20 minutes.”

It’s also important to ensure that children hydrate before and after sports activity. In addition to water, sports drinks that contain salt can help prevent as well as treat dehydration. Dressing children in light-colored, lightweight clothes can also help them beat the heat. Make sure coaches and counselors ensure that children remove protective headgear like helmets when not participating in activity to allow heat to escape.

Treating Heat-related Illness

Heat illness is easy to head off if you can recognize the symptoms of dehydration: feeling thirsty, dizzy or lightheaded, dry mouth, inability to urinate, or very dark yellow or orange urine.

“Teach your child to recognize these symptoms so he or she understands when to tell you, their coach or teacher that they need to get something to drink, take a break from activity and cool off,” says Woods.

If you think a child is experiencing heat cramps or heat exhaustion, get him or her to a cool place, give them water or a sports drink, place cool cloths on their skin and remove any extra clothing. If you suspect a child may have heatstroke, call 911 immediately. While you wait for help, move the child to a cool place, offer them cool fluids if they’re alert enough to drink and place bags of ice under the armpits and in the groin area.

“Summer is a great time for children to enjoy being active and improve their sports skills,” says Woods. “By taking simple precautions you can keep your child on the field instead of on the sidelines.”