Heat-Related Illness in Children

How Heat Affects Kids

Here we are in summer and this year seems to be hotter than the last. They say that as time goes on, we can expect higher average summer temperatures and more extreme heat warnings.

With warmer temperatures, comes sun burns and heat-related illnesses especially if we are not prepared or take precautions. This already scares me as a mom trying to keep my kids safe.  My daughter already seems to be more affected by being out in the sun/heat and it isn’t always easy to get those little people to wear their hats and long sleeved swim attire. Have you or your kids ever experienced a heat-related illness?

Children compose almost half (47.6%) of all heat-related illnesses.  I believe it, my own daughter seems to be more susceptible to the heat than the rest of our family.  But why is it that kids are more susceptible? When really young, babies do to loose heat very quickly and they do not sweat effectively – which is a bad combination in heat.  Also, as kids get older they tend to be more active than adults and don’t hydrate by drinking enough fluids.  They have a greater surface area to mass ratio, a slower rate of acclimatization and a lower rate of sweating – all combined provide a great risk to heat-related illnesses.


So how can we protect our kids?

Lather them up frequently with Sunscreen and/or get them to wear as much cover up as possible. ie. long sleeved swim shirts/swim pants/shorts and drink lots of water are obvious ways, but it’s easy to forget how much time our kids and ourselves are spending directly in the sun and heat.

Being prepared with shade casting tents or umbrellas when natural shade isn’t an option.  Finding ways to keep cool ie pools, lakes, ocean, air conditioning, fans, misters etc.


What are the initial signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and what should you do if you suspect them?

Heat rash/prickly heat forms when sweat ducts become blocked often due to being dressed too warmly.  This is a common heat-related illness in babies. It causes discomfort and is itchy.  Dressing your children for the elements (ie. not too warmly – cotton material) helps to prevent blocked sweat ducts, keeping the skin dry and cool will help.  Often the rash goes away after 2-3 days. Source

Heat Cramps occurs often if you are exercising in the heat from a loss of electrolytes. Replenishing the electrolytes is key -sports drinks/pedialyte.  Source

Heat Edema is a swelling of the legs and hands. Drinking more water, staying in a cool area with the part of the body elevated to allow for the fluids to drain.  Source

Heat Tetany is hyperventilation and heat stress. If suspected remove the person out of the heat and helping them slow their breathing down.  Source

Heat Syncope is when you faint due to lowered blood pressure. Often certain medications can contribute to lowering your blood pressure. Heat syncope is sometimes a symptom of a nervous system, metabolic, or cardiovascular problem that needs further medical evaluation. If you suspect heat syncope move the person to a cooler place if possible, allow them to sit or lie down, elevate feet to increase blood flow to the heart and ensure they are rehydrating.  Source

Heat Exhaustion signs are nausea, lightheaded, fatigue, muscle cramping, dizziness. If you suspect heat exhaustion stop all activity and rest, move to a cooler place and rehydrate.  Source 


If heat exhaustion progresses to heat-stroke, that is a medical emergency and if left untreated can lead to death.  Call 911 immediately.  For more detailed information on the above listed illnesses see HealthLinkBC. 

Heatstroke occurs when the body fails to regulate its own temperature, and body temperature continues to rise.

Signs of heatstroke include:

  • Unconsciousness for longer than a few seconds.
  • Confusion, severe restlessness, or anxiety.
  • Convulsion (seizure).
  • Symptoms of moderate to severe difficulty breathing.
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Sweating that may be heavy or may have stopped.
  • Skin that may be red, hot, and dry, even in the armpits.
  • Nausea and vomiting.


Play safe this summer!

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, all the information listed above has been collected from a variety of reputable sources (all listed above) and compiled here for your convenience. 

Tina Evans

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