Don’t miss the signs of heat exhaustion in children
Heat exhaustion can be scary—and kids are at increased risk. Learn how to spot and prevent this common condition.
Warmer weather invariably means fun in the sun. But when temperatures (and humidity levels) soar, spending too much time at the beach, in the pool or at the park can put you – and your family – at risk for heat-related illnesses.
What is heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion occurs when your body overheats in response to external factors, like high temperatures. Although it can happen to anyone, it’s common in athletes who exercise outdoors during extreme summer weather. Spending too long in a hot car or another indoor area that isn’t air-conditioned can also trigger this condition. And babies, toddlers, and older adults are more susceptible because they are not able to regulate their body temperature efficiently.
Obvious signs of heat exhaustion
As Dr Jennie Bruwer, a general practitioner at Mediclinic Upington explains, obvious signs of heat exhaustion include:
- Pale skin
- Muscle cramps
- A headache
- Dark-coloured urine
What to do if you suspect heat exhaustion
“While heat exhaustion isn’t as serious as heat stroke [Internal link to heat stroke December Infohub content], it’s important to bring down the body temperature as quickly as possible to prevent further complications,” says Dr Bruwer.
If your child shows any tell-tale signs:
- Take them out of the sun immediately
- Remove layers of clothing
- Sponge them down with cool water
- Offer them liquids to rehydrate.
“If symptoms worsen, or if they do not improve in 20-30 minutes despite the above treatment, seek medical attention to avoid progression to heat stroke,” says Dr Bruwer.
Remember that unless you are very alert, you might not recognise the signs of heat exhaustion in youngsters because they can’t tell their parents or caregivers about their discomfort. “Infants may just be cranky in the heat which parents may consider normal and ignore,” Dr Bruwer explains.
Rather take preventative steps this summer. Encourage play in the shade, ensure everyone is getting enough to drink and that youngsters wear light, breathable clothing.
In addition, never leave your child unattended in the car and never place a towel or blanket over a car seat or pram to shelter him from the sun. This actually reduces airflow and can cause him to overheat.
Fortunately, patients with heat exhaustion usually recover within 30 minutes of treatment and have no further issues. If the symptoms worsen or don’t improve, seek medical help immediately.
Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke
|Heat exhaustion symptoms||Heat stroke symptoms|
|general weakness||elevated body temperature above (40C)*|
|increased heavy sweating||rapid and strong pulse or heart rate|
|a weak but faster pulse or heart rate||loss or change of consciousness|
|nausea or vomiting||hot, red, dry, or moist skin|
|pale, cold, clammy skin
* It is therefore very important for a health professional to measure the core temperature (e.g. rectally).