Oh no, I think my child has heatstroke, what should I do?

girl heatstrokeIt’s a difficult balance during summers in Tucson. I don’t want my boys inside all day so we try to get out early in the morning or in the evening, but the 100 degree days seem to start earlier and earlier and last longer. Along with dehydration, I worry about heat exhaustion and, worse still, heatstroke during these hot summer months. While we often think of heatstroke as what happens when children are left in a hot car, it can also happen when they’re just playing outside in the heat.

Because children have smaller bodies, they are more susceptible than adults to heat exhaustion and heatstroke, so it’s important to know the symptoms and what to do in case heatstroke strikes.

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke is when the body becomes overheated and fails to regulate its own temperature. Body temperatures rise, and may even get up to 105°F (40.6°C) or higher.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency, it can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • Skin is flushed, red and dry
  • Little or no sweating
  • Deep breathing
  • Dizziness, headache, fatigue or a combination of these
  • Less urine is produced, and it is of a dark yellowish color
  • Loss of consciousness

What to do if you suspect heatstroke:

  • Move your child out of the heat immediately and take your child to the hospital or doctor as soon as possible
  • If for some reason you cannot get your child to a hospital or physician, quickly move your child immediately out of the heat and place in a cool bath (although not less than 60 degrees, you don’t want to constrict the blood vessels)
  • When your child is in the bath, massage the skin to increase circulation, get them to a hospital or doctor as quickly as possible

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is not as severe as heatstroke, but is a result of the body overheating. It still requires careful monitoring and can be a precursor to heatstroke.

Heat exhaustion can take a while to develop especially with prolonged exercise.

Here are some symptoms of heat exhaustion to look out for:

  • Goosebumps and cool skin
  • Excessive sweating
  • Faintness and or dizziness especially upon standing (low blood pressure)
  • Complains of being tired
  • Pulse becomes rapid
  • Complaints of cramps, nausea or headache

When to do if you suspect heat exhaustion:

  • Stop all activity and rest
  • Move your child to a cooler place
  • Encourage your child to drink cool water or sports drinks
  • Contact your child’s pediatrician if signs or symptoms worsen or if they don’t improve within one hour. Seek immediate medical attention if your child becomes confused or agitated, loses consciousness or is unable to drink.

What can we do to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

  1. If your child is in camp or daycare, check to make sure the camp or child care provider has procedures in place to prevent dehydration and excessive heat exposure.
  2. Make sure your child stays hydrated.
  3. Incorporate water play into outdoor time. Whether it is swimming, a splash pad or sprinklers in the backyard, water play can make the outside bearable. Don’t forget sunscreen, swim shirts and hats though!
  4. Stop and rest. Children and adults alike tend to become exhausted in the heat. Build in rest time.
  5. Dress for the heat. Light-colored and light-weight clothing is best
  6. Check out some cool air-conditioned space for a change of pace from the house. Pima County libraries provide lots of activities year-round and are free. The Children’s Museum of Tucson provides an opportunity for active play.
  7. If possible for your family’s schedule, incorporate a siesta, or nap, into the hottest part of the day and then let the kids stay up later to enjoy cooler nighttime temperatures. Reid Park Zoo, Tucson Botanical Gardens and the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum all have summer schedules that allow early morning or evening visits.

Keep cool in the Old Pueblo this summer,

Melissa

Melissa HodgesPediatric Emergency Notes from Melissa
Melissa Hodges is a pediatric emergency room RN and mom to two young boys. Melissa has been at Tucson Medical Center for 10 years. She is a knitting ninja apprentice who makes a mean chili and enjoys spending time with her family and friends in beautiful Tucson, Arizona.

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