“Going outside on that first hot day of summer can feel like stepping into a blast furnace, because the sudden temperature spike occurs too quickly for our bodies to adjust,” said Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a family physician at UMDNJ-SOM. “It takes even longer for children’s bodies to make these changes, and that makes them more prone to potential heat injuries.”
Research shows that the time for an adult’s body to make the adjustments to protect itself from higher temperatures – a process called heat acclimatization – can take from seven to ten days. The physiological adjustments the body makes during this process include enhanced blood flow to the skin, increased sweating and a reduction in the salt content of perspiration.
“Even though children’s bodies generate 25 to 50 percent more heat during exercise, they won’t feel thirsty as quickly as adults,” Dr. Caudle explained. “Children also have fewer sweat glands, and those they have are not as well developed, so they don’t sweat to evaporate heat as well as adults.”
Parents should also be familiar with the signs of dehydration in children, including crying with no tears, decreased urine output, lethargy and headache. To quickly test a child’s level of hydration, gently pull and then release the skin on the back of the hand. If the skin doesn’t quickly return to normal, the child may be dehydrated.
Dr. Caudle offered the following tips to help keep children safe during summer’s hot weather:
- Encourage children to play inside during the hottest part of the day (1 to 4 p.m.) and to play in shady areas when outdoors.
- Take extra water along to any outdoor activities.
- Interrupt play time periodically for water breaks. If children balk at drinking water, try fruit juice diluted by half with water as an alternative.
- Ask camp directors about their program’s guidelines and plans for keeping children safe during hot weather.
“Children who are playing or exercising in hot weather may suffer from a range of heat-related illnesses that range from heat cramps to heat stroke,” Dr. Caudle said. “Knowing how to recognize and respond to each could save your child’s life.”
Heat cramps are fairly common and affect the legs, arms and abdomen. They should dissipate relatively quickly if the child rests in a cool area and drinks extra fluids.
Heat exhaustion will cause a child to perspire heavily and may produce nausea, fatigue or headache. Move a child with these symptoms to a cool area, loosen the child’s clothing and encourage additional fluids. Contact a physician if the child is unable, or refuses, to drink.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Signs of heat stroke in a child include hot, dry skin with no perspiration, weakness or confusion, severe headache, seizure or loss of consciousness.
“If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention,” Dr. Caudle said. “Keep in mind, however, that both heat exhaustion and heat stroke may require medical attention. If you are unsure if you should contact your child’s physician, it’s better to err on the side of caution and make the call.”
Journalists interested in speaking to Dr. Caudle should contact Jerry Carey, UMDNJ News Service, at (856) 566-6171 or at [email protected]
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is New Jersey’s only health sciences university with more than 6,000 students on five campuses attending the state’s three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and New Jersey’s only school of public health. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, which provides a continuum of healthcare services with multiple locations throughout the state.