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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices

Heat Related Illnesses in Children


Heat Related Illnesses in Children

Children are more sensitive to having problems with heat and humidity. Youngsters adjust more slowly than adults do to changes in environmental heat. They also produce more heat with activity than adults, and sweat less. Sweating is one of the body's normal cooling mechanisms. And kids often do not think to rest when having fun and may not drink enough fluids when playing, exercising, or participating in sports.

Children with chronic health problems or those who take certain medicines may be even more susceptible to heat related illness. Furthermore, youngsters who are overweight or wear heavy clothing during exertion (such as marching bad or football uniforms) are even more susceptible. 

Heat cramps

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat injury and consist of brief, but extremely painful muscle cramps and spasms. They usually occur in the muscles of the legs (hamstrings), arms, or abdomen and occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat. The sweating that occurs with vigorous exercise causes the body to lose salts and fluids. And the low level of salts causes the muscles to cramp. Children are particularly susceptible to heat cramps when they haven't been drinking enough fluids. Although painful, heat cramps aren't serious. They usually improve with rest, drinking water, and a cool environment


Symptoms Treatment

Heat Cramps

  • painful cramps, especially in the legs
  • flushed moist skin
  • mild fever, usually less than 102º F
  • Move to a cool place and rest.
  • Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on skin; fan skin.
  • Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar such as Gatorade®.
  • Stretch cramped muscles slowly and gently.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke. Rest and water may help in mild heat exhaustion, and ice packs and a cool environment (with a fan blowing at the child) may also help.



Symptoms Treatment

Heat Exhaustion

  • muscle cramps
  • pale, moist skin
  • usually has a fever over 102º F
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • anxiety, and faint feeling
  • hyperventilation (rapid breathing)
  • irritability
  • Immediately bring your child indoors or into the shade.
  • Loosen or remove your child's clothing; replace with cool cloths on the skin and fan skin
  • Encourage your child to eat and drink. Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar such as Gatorade®.
  • Give your child a bath in cool (not cold) water.
  • Call your child's doctor for further advice. If your child is too exhausted or ill to eat or drink, intravenous fluids may be necessary.


Heat stroke

Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness, occurs when the body's heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. It is a life-threatening medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

When heat stroke occurs, the body loses its ability to regulate its own temperature. Body temperature can soar to 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41.1 degrees Celsius) or even higher, leading to brain damage or even death if it isn't quickly treated. 

Factors that increase the risk for heatstroke include overdressing and extreme physical exertion in hot weather with inadequate fluid intake.

Heatstroke can also happen when a child is left in, or becomes accidentally trapped in, a car on a hot day. When the outside temperature is 93 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit in just 20 minutes, quickly raising a child's body temperature to dangerous levels.


Symptoms Treatment

Heat Stroke

  • warm, dry skin that us flushed but not sweaty
  • high fever, usually over 104º F
  • rapid heart rate
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache- severe and throbbing
  • fatigue
  • confusion, disorientation and agitation
  • hallucinations
  • lethargy and decreased responsiveness
  • stupor
  • seizures, coma, and death are possible
  • dizziness
  • Call 911 or your local emergency medical service. Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency and needs to be treated by a physician

  • While waiting for help: Get your child indoors or into the shade. 
  • Undress your child and sponge or douse him or her with cool water.
  • followed by fanning to stimulate sweating.
  • Do not give fluids unless your child is alert 
  • Place ice bags on the armpits and groin areas.
  • Offer cool fluids if alert and able to drink.
  • Have the child lie down in a cool area with their feet slightly elevated

Prevention of Heat Related Illnesses

An Ounce of Prevention
Some ways you can prevent your child from experiencing heat illness include:

  • Teach your child to always drink plenty of fluids before and during an activity in hot, sunny weather - even if he or she isn't thirsty.  Give them a spray bottle to mist themselves Water and sports drinks are the drinks of choice.
  • Make sure your child wears light-colored loose clothing.
  • Make sure your child only participates in heavy activity outdoors before noon and after 6 PM.
  • Teach your child to come indoors immediately whenever he or she feels overheated.
  • Protect your child from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses and using an umbrella.
  • Increase your child's time spent outdoors gradually to get their body used to the heat.
  • Never, ever leave a child in the car, even with the windows down.






As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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