As the temperature and humidity soars high during the summer season, so does the risk of heat illnesses in people, especially children. Kids are far more vulnerable to heat illnesses than adults are since there are fewer sweat glands in their bodies and it is difficult for them to adjust quickly to the changes in temperatures. Heat illnesses are a range of illnesses caused by over-exertion of the body in moderate to high temperatures and humidity. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and heat rashes are some of the most common types of heat illnesses that can be seen in kids. To make sure that your kids enjoy a safe and healthy summer, it is important to be aware of these heat related illnesses and know how to recognize, treat and prevent them.
Heat is produced in your body mainly due to metabolic activities and by heat absorption from the environment. In order to work properly, a core temperature of about 37°C has to be maintained by your body at all times. When the body temperature rises above this mark, various measures are taken by the body to help us lose the excess heat such as sweating, increased blood flow to the skin, and faster, shallower breathing. Most of the heat produced in your body is eliminated through the skin. However, at high temperatures and high humidity this becomes really difficult, leading to an increase in the risk of heat-related illnesses.
Let’s understand in detail some of the heat illnesses in kids and natural ways to counter them:
Heat cramps are short duration, painful muscle cramps in the arms, legs or abdomen that may develop during or after exercising vigorously in the extreme heat. The strenuous physical activity causes excessive sweating, leading to the loss of salts and fluids from the body. Muscle cramps are caused as a result of this low level of salts in the body. Since kids don’t bother to drink enough fluids, they are mostly at risk for heat cramps. Heat cramps is not a serious condition, although it can be very painful. But if not treated immediately, it can lead to more serious heat related illnesses.
Symptoms of Heat Cramps – Symptoms of heat cramps include muscle spasms that are brief, intermittent, involuntary and painful. The symptoms usually go away on their own.
Natural Ways to Treat Heat Cramps – Heat cramps are usually self-limited, but trying one of these home remedies can bring fast relief:
- Move your child to a cool place and ask him to take rest. Give him cool water to drink or a sports drink that has salt and electrolytes.
- You can also make your own salt solution by taking a a quart of water and mixing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon table salt in it.
- Massaging and stretching the cramped muscles gently also may help.
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Heat exhaustion is a more severe heat related illness caused, when your kid doesn’t take in adequate amounts of fluids in the hot environment. Excessive sweating causes the loss of water and electrolytes from the body. There are two types of heat exhaustion – one caused by water depletion and the other by salt depletion. The symptoms of water depletion include weakness, excessive thirst, headache, and loss of consciousness, while the symptoms of salt depletion include muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.
Although heat exhaustion is not a very serious condition, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. If not taken care of, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which is a very dangerous heat related illness that can cause damage to the brain as well as other vital organs, and may even lead to death.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion – The following are the most common signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion:
- Dark colored urine, which is a sign of dehydration
- Muscle or abdominal cramps
- Profuse sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Pale skin
Natural Ways to Treat Heat Exhaustion – If your child is suffering from heat exhaustion, try the following natural remedies to help him get better soon:
- Bring your child to a cooler place such as a shady area indoors or an air-conditioned car.
- Take off the excess clothing your child might be wearing.
- Give your child cool fluids that contain salt and sugar, such as sports drinks.
- Place cool water or a wet cloth on your child’s skin. Wiping the body with a wet cloth is also helpful.
If no improvement is seen or if your child is unable to take fluids, make sure to provide him emergency medical care. If your child is very weak or unable to drink, intravenous (IV) fluids may have to be administered.
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Heat stroke is the most severe type of heat illness and it is considered as a life threatening medical emergency. During a heat stroke, the body will not be able to regulate its own temperature, as a result of which the body temperature rises to high levels, leading to brain damage or even death, if not treated immediately. In order to bring the body temperature under control, it is important to provide medical treatment at the right time. Extreme physical activity, overdressing, inadequate fluid intake in hot weather are some of the factors that increase the risk for heatstroke.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke – The symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Warm, dry skin
- Rapid heart rate
- High fever, usually over 40°C
- Loss of appetite
- Seizures, coma, and death are also possible
Natural Ways to Counter Heat Stroke – If you notice one or more of these symptoms in your child, call for emergency medical help. Keep in mind that heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency and needs to be treated by a medical professional. While you are waiting for the help to arrive, you can do the following:
- Get your child to a cool place.
- Undress your child and douse his body with cool water.
- Avoid giving any fluids unless your child is awake, alert, and acting normally.
- Place ice bags on the armpits and groin areas.
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Heat rash, also called prickly heat is a pink or red colored rash normally found on areas of the body that is covered by clothing. It occurs when your child sweats too much and the sweat ducts become blocked and inflamed. This often leads to itching and a lot of discomfort. Although children of all ages can get heat rash, it is most common in babies. Heat rash is not a serious condition but it indicates that your child is very warm. If not attended to, it can lead to overheating of the body and other heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Symptoms of Heat Rash – Appearance of tiny dots or pimples on areas such as head, neck, shoulders, chest and stomach is the main symptom of heat rash. The affected areas may get irritated by scratching or clothing and, in some cases, it may lead to a secondary skin infection. If the rashes become infected, they might fill up with pus.
Natural Remedies for Heat Rash – There are many simple and natural home remedies to treat heat rash. The following are some of the effective ones:
- Limit sun exposure.
- Keep the skin cool.
- Wear breathable fabric.
- Apply ice cubes on the affected area.
- Apply aloe vera gel on the affected area. The anti-inflammatory and soothing properties of the gel helps provide relief from heat rash.
- Place thin slices of cucumber over the rashes or apply cucumber paste on the area.
- Apply the paste of neem leaves on the affected skin.
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Another common heat related problems is dehydration. Children become dehydrated when they lose more body fluid by urinating or sweating than the amount of fluids they intake. Even mild dehydration can affect a child. If not treated, dehydration can interferes with the ability of the body to regulate temperature, leading to an increase the risk of other heat-related illnesses.
Symptoms of Dehydration – The symptoms of dehydration include:
- Excessive thirst
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Being irritable or cranky
- Low urine output and urine appears dark in color.
- No tear production
Natural Ways to Treat Dehydration – Move your child to a cool, shady area and give him plenty of water or other fluids. If your child does not feel better soon, take him to a doctor immediately.
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All types of heat illnesses mentioned above are completely preventable if your child is well hydrated and not over heated. Teach your kids to drink plenty of fluids before and during activity in the hot weather, even if they are not thirsty. They should use sunscreen and wear loose, light-colored clothing when outdoors. Teach them to come indoors, take rest, and drink plenty of water whenever they feel overheated. Do not use salt tablets because they may slow down stomach emptying and delay the absorption of fluids. During very hot climate, try to spend as much time as possible indoors with air-conditioning or electric fans.Image Credits: Flickr - Muadh N M