Assessing and Treating Heat-Related Illness in Children

Assessing and Treating Heat-Related Illness in Children

July 21, 20222 min read

Dangerously high global temperatures require an abundance of caution and preparation, especially when it comes to protecting the littlest members of society. Associate professor of Nursing, Michelle M Kelly, PhD, CRNP, CNE, is an expert in pediatric healthcare and shares her tips for preventing heat-related illness in children.

First, what is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a slowly progressing condition that begins as one is exposed to increased temperatures for extended periods of time without the proper precautions. Ultimately, heat exhaustion can become heatstroke which always requires immediate intervention.

What are the signs of heat exhaustion?

Signs of heat exhaustion include increased thirst, nausea, vomiting, irritability, headache, increased sweating, fainting, weakness, extreme tiredness, and muscle cramps. The child will have cool and clammy feeling skin, with an elevated body temperature, but it will be below 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius).

When does heat exhaustion become heatstroke?

With heatstroke, the above symptoms progress to severe headache, weakness, dizziness, confusion, fast breathing, and heart rate. The child will feel flushed, hot, with dry skin, little to no sweating, and may pass out or have a seizure, due to the body temperature exceeding 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This child needs immediate intervention aimed at decreasing the child’s body temperature.

What should caregivers do when a child experiences heat-related illness?

Interventions that a family can begin while getting the child emergency treatment include getting the child to lie down with feet elevated indoors or in shade. Remove excess clothing. Apply lukewarm water to the skin either with a wet cloth or spray bottle. If the child is awake, give sips of cool clear fluids. If the child is vomiting, keep the child on their side to prevent choking. Emergency treatment will include continuing to decrease the child’s body temperature, giving fluids (by mouth or with intravenous fluids), and monitoring for seizures.

Tips for prevention?

Plan ahead if you and your children will be outside during this extreme heat. Wear light colors and plan for some sort of shade if possible. Try to arrange outdoor activities to take place in the early morning or evening, not during the heat of the day. Or better yet, spend time in a pool or indoors in air conditioning.

If your child will be participating in sports during a heat wave, start hydrating 24 hours before to prevent the risk of dehydration. This means making sure they have had adequate fluids before competing, during the competition, and afterward to recover. Water is the best liquid, but an alternative would be low-sugar-containing electrolyte solutions designed for children (such as Pedialyte).

Stay safe!

Connect with:
  • Michelle Kelly, PhD
    Michelle Kelly, PhD Associate Professor | M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing

    Michelle Kelly, PhD, CRNP, is an expert in children's health, neonatal intensive care, and long-term health effects of premature birth.

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