Keeping Kids Safe from Heat and Dehydration

A child playing outside.
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Protecting children from the risks of overheating and dehydration can be a challenge for parents during the warm months. Young kids are especially vulnerable to these dangers because their bodies don’t regulate temperature as well as adults.

As daily temperatures climb above 80 degrees, the number of emergency department visits for heat-related illnesses tends to rise. According to National Emergency Medical Services Information System, in Washtenaw County in May 2024 there were 214 heat-related emergencies for children ages 1–4 years old. Over half resulted in transport to a medical facility.

Understanding the Risks

Heat-related illnesses are a significant concern for children. If heat-related illnesses in children are not addressed promptly, the consequences can be severe.

Trinity Health pediatric specialist Dr. Neal Weinberg highlights early signs to watch for.

Dr. Neal Weinberg is a man with gray curly hair wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and red tie.
Neal Weinberg, pediatric specialist with Trinity Health

“Parents should be vigilant for a flushed appearance of the face, lethargy, dry tongue and eyes, dry diapers, and difficulty arousing the child,” he said.

Without intervention, children can experience poor circulation, indicated by a thready pulse and pale skin. As dehydration worsens, it becomes increasingly difficult to rehydrate the child orally, leading to further health complications. Ultimately, untreated heat-related illnesses can result in heat exhaustion or heat stroke, both of which are medical emergencies that require immediate attention to prevent long-term damage or even fatality.

Prevention Tips

Preventing heat-related issues starts with dressing children appropriately. Dr. Weinberg suggests opting for lightweight, breathable clothing that wicks away moisture. He also stresses the importance of hydration, “Allow liberal intake of any fluids and keep tabs on wet diapers and trips to the bathroom if it is really hot outside.” Encouraging kids to drink water frequently helps maintain proper hydration.

Safe Outdoor Play

Choosing the right times for outdoor play can make a significant difference. Dr. Weinberg recommends letting children play outside in the cooler times, such as earlier morning or evening. He advises against outdoor play during the peak heat of the day. Regardless of the time of day, he suggests staying in the shade as much as possible.

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Sun Protection

Protecting children from sunburn is another crucial step.

“Use sunblock clothing for both ‘in town’ and pool or beach outings. UPF 15-24 is good; 25-39 is very good; and 40-50 is excellent,” recommends Dr. Weinberg.

For sunscreen, he advises using products with at least SPF 30 and applying them generously. Sunscreens should be applied 15-30 minutes before exposure and reapplied every two hours, especially after swimming.

Immediate Actions if Symptoms Occur

If a child shows early signs of overheating or dehydration, immediate action is necessary.

“If early on, strip off heavy clothes, push fluids orally, and sponge with tepid water,” advises Dr. Weinberg. Ignoring these signs can lead to more severe symptoms, making it harder to rehydrate the child orally and potentially leading to more serious health complications.

Important Reminder

Never leave children alone in a vehicle, even for a short time, during hot weather. The confined space can quickly become dangerously hot, leading to rapid overheating and dehydration, which poses a serious health risk.

Keeping Your Kids Cool and Safe

Dr. Weinberg reminds parents that their little ones need similar care to themselves.

“Prevention of dehydration and sunburn for children is not much different than what is appropriate for adults. Limit exposure, use sunscreen, drink plenty of fluids and take action if appearance or behavior changes,” he said.

By following these guidelines and staying vigilant, we can ensure our children enjoy a safe and healthy summer.

For more detailed information on preventing heat-related illnesses, you can visit Washtenaw County Health Department’s Hot Weather Safety Tips.