Summer is here! That means pool time, baseball games, snow cones, and playing outside late into the evening.

It also means our area is slowly starting to feel like the surface of the sun.

As a pediatrician, I see heat-related illness and injury nearly everyday during the summer.  Let me break it down for you: the amount of heat we’re exposed to outside during the hot Texas summer is dangerous, and can sometimes be life-threatening.   This heat can overcome even the best of athletes, and children can be more susceptible to heat illness than adults! Let’s go over some signs of exercise-related heat illness, and then what you can do to avoid it.

Heat fatigue (heat cramps): this is what happens when a young athlete spends a fair amount of time outside and starts experiencing some strong muscle cramps (especially in the legs).  It can be an early-developing heat illness.   The athlete must immediately stop, cool off, and drink an electrolyte-containing beverage. 

Heat exhaustion:  Sometimes, our bodies become so overwhelmed with heat that our coping mechanisms no longer work (including our cooling sweat).  When this happens, a child’s body temperature can go as high as 104F!  They can get dizzy, nauseous, and flushed.  Stop your child from play immediately! Move them to a cool shaded place and give them electrolyte drinks.  If they can’t handle drinking or don’t improve quickly, take them to the nearest ER.

Heat stroke (this is the bad one): If a child’s cooling mechanisms stop working and their body temperature rises above 104F, heat stroke can occur.  The child or adolescent may be confused, starting fighting people off for no reason, have a seizure, or become unconscious.  This is an emergency! Immediately call 9-1-1 and take he or she to a cooler environment as fast as possible.

How do we as parents, coaches, and health care providers prevent such lousy heat-related illnesses?  By practicing and advising the following:

  • Schedule that game or that play date for the cooler parts of the day – early mornings and late evenings.   Avoid the mid-day sun!
  • Pay attention to the weather folks – reschedule that football practice if the heat index will be through the roof that day.
  • Schedule breaks every 10-15 minutes for any activities lasting longer than an hour, and offer drinks.  Drinking cold water in most cases is just as good as an electrolyte-containing drink like Gatorade.
  • Encourage your young athletes to eat a healthy diet including the necessary daily vitamins and minerals.

And…of course…wear sunscreen!  Go for a sunscreen that’s at least 30 SPF.   Always apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outside, and re-apply that good stuff every 2 hours. 

Stay safe, stay cool, and have fun!

Diane Arnaout, M.D., is a new pediatrician with Cook Children’s Willow Park office located at 136 El Chico Trail, Willow Park, TX 76087. You may book an appointment with her by calling 817-441-5412.

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