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Heat Stroke in Kids: Symptoms & Prevention

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

This lesson covers information you need to know about the signs and symptoms of heat stroke as they appear in kids. We will also learn about preventative measures and why they work.

Heat Stroke in Kids

Think back to when you were a young child. What was one thing you likely anticipated every school year? The summer break! It meant not getting up early and being able to play outside with your friends. These thoughts may still cross your mind when you see kids outside playing during summer. However, we need to recognize that potential dangers exist when our kids are outside playing.

Kids can have a heat stroke while outside playing
Picture of kids playing outside

Kids hardly ever think that the sun and heat could make them sick, but it can. There are a few heat-related illnesses that can interrupt that fun day during summer break. One illness is a heat stroke. This is a serious emergency medical condition that occurs when the body isn't able to cool down fast enough due to being exposed to high temperatures for an extended period of time. It can be triggered by rigorous play outdoors for an extended period of time.

Heat stroke can quickly turn deadly. Prompt medical intervention is needed in order to save the life of a child that is experiencing heat stroke; therefore, you need to be able to detect that a child is experiencing this condition. That will come from knowing the symptoms associated with having a heat stroke.

Symptoms and Signs of Heat Stroke

One thing that should catch your attention is that the child is not sweating and has flushed, dry skin. This is the opposite of what you would expect to happen when a child is in the heat for any real period of time.

Upon touching the child, you may realize that he or she feels hot to the touch. Taking the child's temperature will reveal a body temperature of 104 degrees F or higher.

The child may complain about having a throbbing headache and feeling nauseous, weak, and dizzy. These are tell-tale signs of a heat stroke in a child.

You may find yourself giving the child simple directions to follow, but the child seems to be confused or having difficulty thinking clearly. This is directly due to the brain becoming damaged at such a high temperature.

The child's body will attempt to correct problems in the body by having rapid heart and breathing rates. This is because the heart is trying to pump blood faster to make the body sweat and cool off.

After a short while into the heat stroke, the child may have a seizure or become unconscious. This results from damage in the brain caused not only by high temperature, but also by a likely decrease in oxygen or the ability to use oxygen.

Preventing Heat Stroke in Kids

No one would want to see this happen, so let's learn how to prevent kids from having a heat stroke.

Drinking plenty of water is key to preventing heat stroke
Picture of water being poured into a glass

The first prevention is to drink lots of water and/or other fluids. Water is by far the best, but sports drinks are also a good option. Being hydrated is key to stopping a heat stroke. The reason is simple: if it isn't in you, then it can't come out of you. In other words, the body can't sweat if there isn't any water inside it to spare. Kids should drink fluids before, during, and after being out in the heat.

The next prevention is especially important for really young kids, around the infant and toddler ages. Yes, they can have a heat stroke too! Never leave kids in hot cars. We have unfortunately seen this occur time and time again. Cars get hot very quickly. They become hotter than the outside temperature as the sun essentially turns the car into an oven. Whatever the outside temperature is, add about 30+ degrees to it and that's the temperature within the car in about 20 minutes.

To prevent heat stroke you should limit outside activities during the hottest parts of the day. This means that kids can play sports or do other activities before noon and/or after around 6:00 in the evening. Bear in mind that they will still need to drink plenty of fluids during those hours as well.

Lastly, have kids wear loose clothing. We don't want clothes so loose that they won't stay on, but we do want them loose enough to allow air to flow through. Air flowing through clothes will help sweat evaporate off the body and cool it down even faster.

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