Heat-Related Injuries

HOUSTON, Texas Children's Hospital -- As the weather heats up, it’s more important for kids and adolescents to stay cool while playing outdoors.

“Seldom does a child complain about the heat, like an adult does,” said Dr. Joan Shook, chief of emergency medicine at Texas Children’s Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. “But it’s important to know that children are more susceptible to heat stress than adults because they absorb more heat on a hot day.”

Main Types Of Heat Injuries

There are three types of heat-related injuries: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat cramps are the mildest of these injuries and are characterized by severe muscle pain and spasms. While heat cramps are seldom serious, they should not be taken lightly. Heat cramps are an early warning sign that the body is having difficulty adjusting to the heat.

Heat exhaustion is a more serious form of heat stress. It occurs as a result of body fluids being lost through heavy sweating during exercise or other strenuous activity. Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are extreme sweating, dry mouth, fatigue and weakness, headache, nausea and dizziness.

“Heat stroke is the most severe of the three types of heat-related injuries and is considered a medical emergency,” Shook said. “Signs that a child has experienced heat stroke include a very high temperature (104 degrees or higher); hot, dry, red skin; no sweating; confusion, deep breathing and possibly a loss of consciousness.”

How To Stay Safe

Shook said that heat-related injuries can be avoided by taking the proper precautions during the hot, summer months. All heat-related injuries are caused by a lack of hydration, so the key to prevention is replenishing the body with plenty of fluids, preferably water. Children should take 30-40 minute breaks from the heat during the day to avoid heat-related injuries.

Shook offers the following advice to avoid heat stress in children:

Dress children in light, loose-fitting clothes, such as cotton, so sweat can evaporate.
Avoid giving children drinks with caffeine and sugar. These beverages actually cause the body to loose more fluids.
Make sure children are well-hydrated before starting prolonged physical activity. Children should drink liquids periodically during activities, even if they don’t feel thirsty.

Dr. Joan Shook is chief of emergency medicine at Texas Children's Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. For more information on Texas Children's Emergency Center, visit www.texaschildrenshospital.org.